- Kamakshi Tandon
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MELBOURNE, Australia -- If this was Roger Federer's first step toward a record-tying 14th Grand Slam, it was a worthy one. The three-time former champion recorded a 6-1, 7-6 (4), 7-5 win over Andreas Seppi, a first-round opponent of decent toughness who last year made the semifinals of the Hamburg Masters as a qualifier.
But Federer was well-prepared for the matchup, having also faced Seppi in the second round of the Qatar MobilExxon Open in Doha two weeks ago and winning in straight sets. "I thought I played well," Federer said after the match. "I had to; he's a quality opponent."
Federer reports that he's even more confident entering the Australian Open than he was during the U.S. Open, which he won. "I feel better today just because I've had a decent preparation," he said. "[The loss at] Wimbledon is long gone. I guess the Olympic match against Blake kind of hurt. I was just struggling a little bit with my timing. I felt that in the preparation. But I was kind of in good spirits because of the Olympic gold in doubles.
"This time around I felt great during Kooyong. I had good preparation, feel well -- I should feel better this time around than before the Open."
After a shaky couple of games, the three-time former champion made a flying start in Melbourne, winning the first set in just 24 minutes with a blaze of zinging forehands and twinkling feet.
The signature point came in the middle of the set. Federer scooped up a deep Seppi groundstroke before having to scramble for a drop shot that Seppi then lobbed back over Federer's head. The shot drew "oohs" from the crowd, but Federer was less awed. He coolly glanced back to see where his opponent was standing and then sent a forehand winner down the line with his back to the net.
Perhaps the new shorter haircut reduces wind resistance? Either way, the explosive display was something for Seppi and the rest of the field to note: The real Roger is present in Melbourne.
Seppi gamely stepped up his level in the second set, going for more on his shots to avoid being at Federer's mercy. The Italian even held a set point at 5-6, a Hawkeye challenge showing that he missed a forehand by millimeters.
The could-have-beens mounted as Federer produced some big serves to win the game and take the tiebreaker fairly comfortably.
With a two-set lead in his pocket, the Swiss maestro proceeded to unleash a wider repertoire of shots, coming into net 23 times against an opponent with extremely solid passing shots.
He still needed four match points to get the job done, sending his groundstrokes too deep on his first two chances and watching Seppi unleash a brave forehand on the third before the Italian finally missed a shot long to put Federer through.
Afterward, he gave a brief description of his beach vacation in December -- "Eat, sleep, watch movies, watch the sunset you can imagine what else " But now it's back to work, and Federer is clearly focused on taking care of business.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
He came out ablaze before some erratic play. But Roger Federer is off to an auspicious Aussie Open, defeating Andreas Seppi in straight sets.