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Tuesday, 17 January 2017 09:04 AM GMT
Australian Open Day 2: Serena, Nadal scorch through rounds up the action from the second day session at the 2017 Australian Open. READ MORE

If it's true you don't win Grand Slam titles in the first round, it’s also true you can lay down a marker for the fortnight - and that’s exactly what Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal did on a day when their tennis matched the weather's soaring heights.

Temperatures had already hit 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) by the time the first matches began and the only relief was that the sun was hidden behind the clouds for much of the time.

But if there are two players who like it when the heat is turned up then it has to be Williams, chasing an Open era record 23rd Grand Slam title, and Nadal, looking for Grand Slam title No.15, with both players hitting the ground running as they marched into the second round.

For Williams, it was a far better performance than she managed in Auckland, where she lost in the second round, producing a performance that left her "trying to think of a word that's not obscene."

She needed to be better, too, as she faced a quality opponent in Belinda Bencic. The Swiss, who is also a former junior Wimbledon champion, was ranked as high as No.7 early last year before suffering a series of injuries, but she forced Williams to raise her level before the American pulled out a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

The heat coming off the Williams racket was something special, though the shot she produced on the first point of the ninth game, with the scores level at 4-4, was even better, a slice backhand at full stretch which faded across the advancing Bencic.

“It was amazing,” Serena admitted. “It was on the run, I’ve actually been practising it so I’m really glad that I was able to hit it, but I was think there was a little bit of luck, though after 30 years of playing, maybe I deserve a little luck."

From then on it was all Williams and though Bencic won three straight games from 5-0 down in the second, it only delayed the inevitable and the American, seeded No.2 this year, advanced to round two. 

What a difference a year makes for Rafael Nadal. Twelve months ago, he was beaten in round one by Fernando Verdasco, the start of a painful year which saw him cut down by a wrist injury at the French Open. Though a gold medal in doubles at the Olympics was a high point, the wrist bothered him throughout the rest of the year, but he looked strong as he saw off the awkward challenge of Florian Mayer.

The German can be a tricky customer, with his slices, blocks and forays to the net always keeping opponents off balance, but Nadal was sharp and good value for his 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory.  “It was a good first round for me,” said Nadal, who plays Marcos Baghdatis next. “Florian is a hard first-round for me, he comes to the net a lot, changes the rhythm, so it’s a great victory for me.”

Around the grounds

Could this be the year a British woman wins the title? Ninth seed Jo Konta, a winner in Sydney last week and a semi-finalist here last year, continued her fine form with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium. Equally as impressive was Konta's compatriot Heather Watson, who beat home favourite Samantha Stosur in three sets.

Fifth seed Karolina Pliskova, the runner-up at the US Open, trounced Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-2, 6-0, former runner-up Dominika Cibulkova eased through, beating Czech Denisa Allertova 7-5, 6-2, and there were also wins for rising stars Ana Konjuh and Naomi Osaka, both of whom could feature heavily in the latter stages of the tournament.

On the men’s side, third seed Milos Raonic crushed Dustin Brown and Sascha Zverev, considered by many to be a future world No.1, survived a tough encounter with Robin Haase before winning in five sets. And there was a first Grand Slam win for 18-year-old American Francis Tiafoe, who ousted Mikhail Kukushkin 6-1, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.

Close but no cigar

Yanina Wickmayer was left kicking herself after squandering nine match points in her 3-6, 7-6, 6-1 defeat by Lucie Safarova. It wasn’t quite a record – Adriano Panatta once saved 11 match points in a win – but it was an impressive effort from the Czech, whose reward is a clash with Serena Williams.

Shots of the day

Williams’ on-the-run, sliced backhand winner left Bencic stranded, while Nadal pulled off one of his trademark banana forehands to beat Mayer down the line...

Quote of the day

“I am happy to do an interview with you - last year I didn’t have a chance.” Rafael Nadal to Jim Courier, in an on-court interview for Channel 7, a reference to his first-round defeat here 12 months ago.

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