With one former women’s No. 1 making an early exit and the current one not playing until Tuesday, it was just as well that Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin came back to give the Australian Open some finesse on a rainy, dreary day at Melbourne Park.
Former women’s world Number one Maria Sharapova was a surprise 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4 loser on Monday to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko.
Clijsters, Henin advance
U.S. Open champion Clijsters, also a former No. 1 and making a return to the Australian Open in her sixth tournament back from retirement, easily won her first-round match 6-0, 6-4 over Canadian qualifier Valerie Tetreault.
Later on Monday, another former No. 1 also on the comeback trail, seven-time Grand Slam singles winner Justine Henin, advanced with a 6-4, 6-3 win over fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens. Henin lost to Clijsters in the Brisbane International final 10 days ago in her return to the tour.
Second-seeded Rafael Nadal, the defending Australian Open champion, beat Australia’s Peter Luczak 7-6 (0), 6-1, 6-4.
Nadal won his first Grand Slam singles title on hard courts — to go with his four at the French Open and his one Wimbledon title — when he beat Roger Federer in last year’s final at Melbourne Park.
The Spanish left-hander didn’t find his rhythm until the latter part of the first set against Luczak, dominating the tiebreaker and much of the remainder of the match.
Steady rain first delayed the start of play on outside courts, then forced several suspensions and more than a dozen postponements. Officials finally called off play at 10 p.m. on outside courts when the rain returned, forcing the matches to be concluded on Tuesday.
It was Sharapova’s earliest exit from a Grand Slam since the 2003 French Open, and comes after she lost in the second round at last year’s U.S. Open.
Top-seeded Serena Williams starts her title defence on Tuesday against Urszula Radwanksa of Poland.
Clijsters, who won the U.S. Open in September in only her third tournament back from time off to get married and have a baby, still feels the nerves that come with playing in a Grand Slam.
“I have the experience from the past, but I haven’t been here for so long,” Clijsters said. “So I think that’s why it all feels new again. So, yeah, the butterflies are there, but they’re not the same butterflies as the ones when I was 15 where I couldn’t sleep the night before a match.”
‘Just a bad day’
There were no nerves — “just a bad day” — for Sharapova, who was making her first appearance on Rod Laver Arena since winning the 2008 trophy. She missed the Australian Open last year as part of a 10-month layoff due to shoulder surgery, but said her shoulder did not bother her on Monday.
“I could be disappointed or I could just take it as it is and just go back on the court and just keep working,” Sharapova said. “I choose option two. A bad day’s not going to stop me from doing what I love. I’ll be back here on a Saturday of the second week, so you watch.”
Sharapova rallied from 5-2 down in the deciding set, holding serve and then breaking Kirilenko to stay in the match. She dropped her own serve after giving Kirilenko a double match point.
“It’s never easy. I’m good friends with Maria,” Kirilenko said, but “I tried my best to win today — I came here quite confident.”
Henin was mostly untroubled in beating Flipkens, getting a service break in the ninth game, then holding to take the set. Henin’s trademark groundstrokes were on display, augmented by several forays to the net and a drop shot that Flipkens didn’t come close to retrieving.
In other women’s play, last year’s finalist, second-seeded Dinara Safina, won her first-round match, beating Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-4, 6-4. Another Russian, No. 3 and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, beat Anastasia Rodionova of Australia 6-1, 6-2.
In first-round men’s matches, U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro beat American Michael Russell 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. Britain’s Andy Murray defeated South Africa’s Kevin Anderson 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.
“Little bit weird playing under the roof here — first time I’ve done it,” Murray said.
Seventh-seeded Andy Roddick sat through a needless rain suspension before beating Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. The match at Hisense Arena, the tournament’s second covered court, was suspended at 2-2 in second set so that organizers could close the roof, which had also been opened despite rain in the area.
“First rounds are always a little uncomfortable, especially at a Slam,” Roddick said. “You’re kind of built up; you’re maybe a little bit overanxious. But I thought it was all right.”
Another American, Mardy Fish, was beaten in his first-round match, losing 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 to wildcard Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan.
Elsewhere, No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile beat Olivier Rochus of Belgium 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 and Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic defeated No. 13 Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. American Wayne Odesnik beat Slovenian qualifier Blaz Kavcic 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.
Police ejected 11 people from Melbourne Park on Monday for disruptive behaviour and smuggling flares onto the grounds. A group of Croatian supporters were also denied entry after setting off a flare.