MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Four-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic returned to Rod Laver Arena for the first time as a husband and father, shrugging off the effects of a cold to beat No. 116-ranked Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in his first-round match on Tuesday.
Djokovic won the first of his seven major titles at the 2008 Australian Open, then won here in three consecutive years from 2011 to 2013. His 25-match winning streak at Melbourne Park ended in a quarterfinal loss last year to Stan Wawrinka, who went on to win the title.
Wawrinka began the defense of a major crown for the first time with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 100-ranked Marsel Ilhan, taking less than 1½ hours to breeze through the first round.
In a breakthrough 2014 season, Wawrinka claimed his first Grand Slam title, reached a career-high ranking of No. 3 and helped Roger Federer win the Davis Cup for Switzerland for the first time.
He warmed up for the season-opening major by successfully defending his title at the Chennai Open.
“It’s great, bringing me a lot of memories from last year,” Wawrinka said of his return. “It was great to come back here feeling happy, happy with my game.”
Top-ranked Djokovic had the next match on center court and appeared to be tired and still recovering from illness after his match, saying he’d had a “rough two weeks health-wise but I’m getting up there.”
His mood changed suddenly when a court-side interview turned to reflections of 2014, when he won Wimbledon for the second time, married his long-time partner, Jelena, and the couple had a son, Stefan.
“Well those two events are the two most beautiful events I experienced in my life,” he said. “Stefan, he’s a blessing we received ... now I have even more motivation.”
Two other men widely considered to be in the next generation of major winners advanced in straight sets, with No. 5 Kei Nishikori beating Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-2 and No. 8 Milos Raonic firing 30 aces in a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-3 win against qualifier Illya Marchenko.
No. 12 Feliciano Lopez struggled past American wild-card entry Denis Kudla 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 10-8, No. 18 Gilles Simon beat Robin Haase 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 and No. 19 John Isner beat Taiwanese qualifier Jimmy Wang 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-4.
No. 16 Fabio Fognini lost in four sets to Alejando Gonzalez.
Nishikori, returning to Grand Slam action for the first time since his run to the U.S. Open final, dropped his opening service game but recovered the break quickly and weathered a difficult opening match against Almagro.
Nishikori is coming off a big year in 2014, when he became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final. He’s determined to go one better and win a major.
“Yeah for sure that was one of my best results in my career that gave me a lot of confidence,” the Japanese star said. “I beat a lot of top 10 players.”
Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova needed only 63 minutes for her 6-1, 6-4 win over Richel Hogenkamp.
Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka continued her comeback from a foot injury with a convincing 6-3, 6-2 win over Sloane Stephens and will next have to play U.S. Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki, who beat 18-year-old American Taylor Townsend 7-6 (1), 6-2.
No. 11 Dominika Cibulkova, a finalist here last year, opened with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 comeback win against Kirsten Flipkens.
Limited to just nine tournaments last year, Azarenka’s ranking has fallen to No. 44 and she is unseeded at a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2007 U.S. Open.
2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur had a 6-4, 6-1 victory against Monica Niculescu, and No. 19 Alize Cornet beat Zhang Shuai 6-3, 6-2. No. 24 Garbine Muguruza and No. 25 Barbora Zahlavoa Strycova advanced with straight-sets wins.