Fifth seed Andrey Rublev kicked off his Australian Open 2022 campaign with a swift 6-3 6-2 6-2 win over Italy’s Gianluca Mager. All over in one hour and 25 minutes, it was 10 minutes quicker than Gael Monfils’ first round romp over Federico Coria.
The 24-year-old Russian showed why he has a reputation as one of the hardest-hitting competitors on tour, blasting 31 winners, including a backhand down the line on match point.
Mager, who is yet to win a main draw match at Melbourne Park, made 37 unforced errors to his opponent’s 13.
"I was a bit tight; I didn’t know how I’d play," said Rublev, who withdrew from the ATP Cup after testing positive for Covid. "It’s not easy when you’re not playing for a couple of weeks, then you go to one of the best tournaments.
"I’m really happy to be back."
After landing 13 aces and notching an 81 per cent win rate on first-serve points, Rublev said he doesn’t mind how he seals victory as long as he does in fact, emerge victorious.
"I prefer to win even if I [serve] zero aces," he laughed.
The powerful right-hander, aiming to better his final eight run in 2021, is among dozens of players in the hunt to become the youngest men’s major champion since 23-year-old Novak Djokovic in 2011.
Awaiting him in the second round is Ricardas Berankis, who survived in five against Roberto Carballes Baena, 6-1 3-6 2-6 6-3 6-4.
Elsewhere, ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime recovered from a mid-match dip to avoid an upset against Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori, fighting through 6-4 0-6 3-6 6-3 6-4 in three hours and 40 minutes.
It’s only the fourth time the 21-year-old Canadian has been stretched to five sets, and Ruusuvuori will be left ruing that he gave back a 4-2 lead in the opening set.
In the duo’s maiden meeting, the Finn struck 38 winners to his opponent’s 26 and landed a respectable 71 per cent of his first serves.
But the more seasoned Auger-Aliassime converted a crucial break point, one of seven in the deciding set, during which 19 unforced errors flowed off Ruusuvuori’s racket.
Auger-Aliassime said it took time to adapt to the cooler, windier conditions, a stark contrast to the heat and humidity of recent days. Squeezing out the victory reflects progress in terms of mental resilience, he added.
“Two years ago [I] would probably [have gone] out in three, four sets. Today I was able to win in five,” Auger-Aliassime said, crediting Ruusuvuori’s performance. “I think he’s a great player and showed it today.
"I’m just glad I was able to find a way through."
Eleventh seed Jannik Sinner secured a second round berth by dispatching Portugal’s Joao Sousa 6-4 7-5 6-1. The Italian 20-year-old, who last year became the youngest man to crack the top 10 since Juan Martin del Potro in 2008, slammed 30 winners past Sousa, 12 years his senior.
Standing in Sinner’s way of a maiden appearance in the round of 32 is American Steve Johnson, who outlasted Australian Jordan Thompson in five sets.
Diego Schwartzman, the 13th seed, won his career-first meeting against Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic 6-3 6-4 7-5 in two hours and 29 minutes. The popular Argentine, aged 29 like his opponent, saved six of 10 break points and struck 27 winners to clinch victory in windy, unseasonably cool conditions.
"It was a difficult draw to start the first Grand Slam of the year, but at the end, I think I did great work," said Schwartzman, admitting that his legs cramped in the final stages of the match.
His surprise second round opponent is Australian wildcard Christopher O’Connell, who upset Frenchman Hugo Gaston 7-6(4) 6-0 4-6 6-1.
"He's an amazing player, makes a million balls," said the Sydney resident of Schwartzman. "I'm going to have to play my best tennis."
Bulgarian 26th seed Grigor Dimitrov battled past Czech qualifier Jiri Lehecka 6-4 4-6 6-3 7-5.
Thirty-year-old Dimitrov, who reached the final four at AO17, described it as a tricky encounter, in part because his 20-year-old opponent played like he had nothing to lose.
"I’m happy that everything… ended up on a good note today," said Dimitrov.
American Maxime Cressy, who has revived the serve-and-volley game, knocked out countryman and 22nd seed John Isner with a hard-fought 7-6(2) 7-5 6-7(4) 6-7(4) 6-4 win in four hours and 10 minutes.
Also staging an upset was French journeyman Richard Gasquet, who posted a 3-6 7-6(4) 7-6(3) 6-3 comeback over compatriot and 29th seed Ugo Humbert in his first Australian Open appearance since 2018.
Spanish 15th seed Roberto Bautista Agut also advanced to the round of 64 after surviving a nearly three-hour tussle with Italy’s Stefano Travaglia, winning 7-6(2) 6-4 5-7 6-1.
Later on Tuesday night, Australian men's No.1 Alex de Minaur recovered from a wobbly start to dominate his first-round encounter with Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti.
De Minaur held a point for a 4-1 lead in the opening set before Musetti, an Australian Open junior champion in 2019, reeled off five straight games to take the first set.
But De Minaur refocused, striking 34 winners on his way to a 3-6 6-3 6-0 6-3 victory which sets up a second-round clash with Kamil Majchrzak of Poland.
"I think the most important thing was I stayed positive for the entire match," the 32nd seed reflected immediately afterward at Margaret Court Arena.
"Positive vibes only for 2022! I'm not allowed to get negative on court."
Finally, eighth seed Casper Ruud, who reached the fourth round last year, withdrew with an ankle injury sustained during practice on Sunday.
"Unfortunately I’ve decided that I’m not 100 per cent ready," said the 23-year-old Norwegian, describing the situation as "obviously disappointing".
"To be able to compete with these guys at this level, you need to be 100 per cent. When your ankle is not responding [and] cannot take your explosive movements… then it's tough to perform well."