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Stosur the only shining light for Australia

There was something of a Wimbledon feel to Melbourne Park yesterday for day one of the Australian Open, and not just because of the cool, breezy weather that greeted the first players to grace the courts.

Stosur did not have things all her own way but still progressed. Picture: Getty
Stosur did not have things all her own way but still progressed. Picture: Getty

The weather improved markedly later in the afternoon but unfortunately for the Australians, the performance of the home players did not. Of the nine in action on day one, eight lost, including Lleyton Hewitt, the former world No.1.

It was the kind of opening day that British tennis fans have become used to over the years at Wimbledon, at least until Andy Murray arrived and the recent emergence of Heather Watson and Laura Robson on the women's side.

Australia's only winner on the day was Sam Stosur, the former US Open champion whose record at her home grand slam is remarkably poor. The 28-year-old has made the fourth round only twice, in 2006 and 2010. It comes to something when Stosur is the rock.

The Herald Sun newspaper ran a column yesterday in which it bemoaned the decline of Australian sport, in comparison to Britain. It was tongue in cheek, but in light of yesterday's results, perhaps it is not that far off the mark.

In the 1960s, Australian men won their home grand slam event in every year of the decade, thanks to the brilliance of Rod Laver and Roy Emerson.

Between 1956 and 1970, Australian men won an incredible 45 of all 61 grand slam titles played but last year at Wimbledon, no Australian men reached the second round, for the first time since 1938.

"The sporting landscape has changed for the worse, at least from an Oz perspective," The Herald Sun said. "The good old days when we used to beat up on the Poms at all their own games just for the hell of it are a fast-fading memory.

"The Brits have become too big for their bovver boots and it's time to put a stop to it because Murray's arrival in Melbourne is just the thin edge of the wedge for the sporting year."

Stosur arrived in Melbourne having lost first-round matches in both her two warm-up events and another nightmare looked possible as Kai-Chen Chang of Taipei served for the first set. However, the Australian pulled it round to record a 7-6, 6-3 victory, much to her delight, having lost in the opening round 12 months ago. "Obviously, I feel very happy and a little bit relieved," she said. "It's just nice to get through that first round, finally. From here, hopefully, I can loosen up a little bit and keep playing better and better."

Stosur is well-liked both in Australia and around the tennis world but her inability to relax and play her best at home has prompted plenty of criticism.

"People get asked what their opinion is and they say it and it comes out there," Stosur said. "It's fine. Everyone's entitled to think what they think. But of course I have got a group of people around me I trust all year round, not just during the summer of the Australian Open.

"Maybe some people had valid points, but at the end of the day, I'm always going to go back to who I know and who I trust the most."

Hewitt was playing in his 17th straight Australian Open but though he played some top-level tennis, he bowed out in three sets, beaten by a superb performance from Janko Tipsarevic, the No.8 seed from Serbia.

At 31, and having been under the knife several times for hip and knee injuries, Hewitt's best days are behind him but he refuses to give in and it would be a brave man to bet against him returning next year.

Seven more Australians were due on court on day two, including the new star, Bernard Tomic, fresh from his first tournament victory in Sydney last weekend. Tomic begins against Argentina's Leonardo Mayer this morning.

Meanwhile, it was business as usual for the big guns, with defending champion Novak Djokovic, No.4 seed David Ferrer, women's No.2 seed Maria Sharapova and former No.1 Venus Williams all cruising through.

Djokovic, trying to become the first man to win three straight Australian Open titles in the Open era, dismissed Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 to set up a match with big-hitting American Ryan Harrison.

"He's one of these up-and-coming young talents who has been playing well on the tour for last few years," Djokovic said. "He likes playing on hard courts. He has a big serve which he likes to use and big forehand but I've played him a few times before on different surfaces. I know what it takes to win that match."

One more win each and Venus Williams and Sharapova will meet in the third round. Williams beat Galina Voskoboeva 6-1, 6-0 while Sharapova demolished fellow Russian Olga Puchkova 6-0, 6-0.

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