Grand Slam comeback eludes Ivanovic
FORMER world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic crashed out of the Australian Open at the first hurdle yesterday, with third seed Simona Halep forced to dig deep to avoid a similar fate.
Ivanovic, the fifth seed, was dumped by qualifier Lucie Hradecka in the opening round of the year's first Grand Slam, which often proves a minefield for players short of match practice after the off-season.
Fellow seeds Angelique Kerber (9), Svetlana Kuznetsova (27) and Sabine Lisicki (28) were also among the day-one casualties, while China's Peng Shuai (21) and Carla Suarez Navarro (17) negotiated their way through.
Ivanovic's humiliating 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 loss to Hradecka of the Czech Republic was a disaster for the Serb, who won her only major at the French Open in 2008.
She had been hoping to re-establish her Grand Slam credentials at the Australian Open, where she enjoys huge popularity among the home fans.
"It's really disappointing. It's probably the worst thing that could happen," she said, admitting that she felt "lost" on centre court as world No. 142 Hradecka recovered from a woeful start to outclass a player 137 places above her.
Hradecka, who won a silver medal in doubles at the London Olympics and has three Grand Slam doubles titles, showed no signs of being intimidated, continually wrong-footing Ivanovic as she attacked the net.
"I still don't believe that it's true. Probably in a couple of hours, I'll know that I am in the second round in the Australian Open and I beat Ana... I'm still smiling," she told reporters.
World No. 3 Halep also produced a stuttering first-up performance, with the Romanian admitting that nerves almost got the better of her. Still, she managed to regroup and down Italy's Karin Knapp 6-3, 6-2.
Despite the emphatic scoreline, Halep struggled to impose herself on world No. 50 Knapp and was relieved to advance, saying nerves were always going to be an issue so early in a Grand Slam.
"I'm sure that next time, I'll play better," said the 23-year-old, who is looking to build on a breakthrough 2014, when she reached the French Open final and the semi-finals at Wimbledon.
"I was thinking a lot - maybe too much - yesterday about this match, (so) I'm really happy I could win this."
Kerber of Germany lost to Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-4, 0-6, 6-1. It continued her unhappy run at the Australian Open, where she has exited in the first round three times and never advanced beyond the fourth round in eight attempts.
In men's action, Grand Slam titan Rafael Nadal eased some self-doubts and Andy Murray took the first steps in overcoming a minefield draw.
Nadal, a beaten finalist to Stan Wawrinka last year, turfed out Russian journeyman Mikhail Youzhny in an uncomplicated straight-sets victory, while Murray began a campaign hoping to end the heartbreak of three runners-up finishes in Melbourne.
The two-time Grand Slam champion Scot emerged a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) winner over India's Yuki Bhambri.
Spanish world No. 3 Nadal was delighted with his 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Youzhny, a former US Open semi-finalist, and will next play American qualifier Tim Smyczek.
"Very positive result for me. I think, a very good start. Very important," Nadal said.
The 14-time Grand Slam winner has had only seven matches since Wimbledon in July, due to ongoing back and wrist injuries, and an appendectomy.