Melbourne: Roger Federer made a winning return to competitive tennis after six months out of the game on Monday, thrilling a packed Rod Laver Arena as he beat qualifier Juergen Melzer 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to reach the Australian Open second round.
The Swiss had to battle hard throughout the match against his fellow 35-year-old and only pulled clear of his dogged opponent when the Austrian tired in the final set.
Even Federer could be forgiven a little rustiness after his prolonged absence due to a knee injury and he made 36 unforced errors in his two hours and six minutes on court.
There were, though, plenty of reminders of the brilliant shot-making that have helped Federer to 17 grand slam titles and his 46 to 26 advantage over Melzer in the winner count told the tale of what was ultimately a comfortable win.
The crowd cheered every one to the rafters and, while that pleased Federer, he was clearly just delighted to be back doing what he does best.
"I definitely see things a bit different when you've been gone for a long time or when you've come back from injury," he told reporters.
"It was great to be out there. I really enjoyed myself, even though it wasn't so simple.
"Now being here, feeling like I'm part of this tournament. I wasn't just in the draw, I'm actually making strides. It's a good feeling."
Although he hit 19 aces and increasingly relied on his serve to get out of trouble, Federer was surprised at how long it took him to feel comfortable with that part of his game.
"There were definitely some nerves there," he added. "I was feeling nervous once the match actually started.
"Think I struggled for a while to find that groove, that rhythm and everything. Then you remind yourself how many times has it not been easy in the first round."
The secret to the improvement over the final two sets, he thought, had been relaxing a bit.
"I almost felt like I had to pace myself," he said. "I didn't want to overthink every play. That was not the idea to come here and go mental about every point..
"I'm happy with the more relaxed attitude. Also success came easier."
Seeded 17th, Federer has much tougher battles ahead as he continues his bid for a fifth Melbourne Park title.
Next up in the second round on Wednesday, however, is another qualifier in American Noah Rubin.
Having got his first tour match since his semi-final loss to Milos Raonic at Wimbledon in July out of the way, Federer thought his next encounter would not be quite so difficult.
"This match tonight was more based on me, how I'm going to cope with my comeback and my match," he said.
"But I'm happy with how it went. I think from here on it's only going to get easier."
Wawrinka survives scare
Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka survived a scare from Slovakia's Martin Klizan on Monday, fighting back from a break down in the final set to move into the Australian Open second round with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory.
"It was a big fight tonight," 2014 champion Wawrinka said on court after the match. "[The comeback] came from fighting every day, on and off the court. It was a great atmosphere here and I am happy to be back. He was playing well, he was close to winning. It was a tough match."
It took the world number four more than three hours to subdue his left-handed opponent to cries of "Allez Stan" from the crowd in the Margaret Court arena.
For long periods of the match Weawrinka was far from his best with errors flowing from his racket.
But as a pink dusk descended, Wawrinka slowly found the range on his groundstrokes to move ahead, although the outcome remained in the balance until the final few minutes.
Klizan, who had chances to win the second set, looked favourite when he broke to lead in the decider but Wawrinka doggedly held on and broke from nowhere to make it 4-4.
In the following game he struck the 35th ranked Klizan with a ferocious forehand from point-blank range -- immediately jumping over the net to check on his winded opponent.
Serving to stay in the match Klizan had no luck with a challenge at 30-30 -- the replay showing Wawrinka's flashing winner had found a line -- and the Slovak bowed out when he netted a forehand on Wawrinka's first match point.
It preserved Wawrinka's record of never having lost in the first round of the Australian Open, although it was a close call. The Swiss will face American Steve Johnson next.
"For sure it's a big relief, especially when you're a break down in the fifth, 4-3, 40-15. So I'm really happy to get through," U.S. Open champion Wawrinka told reporters.
"I also know where I am right now. I think in general I'm playing well. I'm physically ready. Most important is to win. The next one is a different match, different day."
Andy Murray took to Melbourne Park's centre court as top seed at a Grand Slam for the first time in his career on Monday but the recently knighted Briton's victory over Illya Marchenko was far from a regal display.
A heavy-footed and rusty Murray had to dig himself out of a number of holes before securing a 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-2 win over the 95th-ranked Ukrainian, having spent far longer under a hot sun than he would have liked at Rod Laver Arena.
"I don't think it was the best match, to be honest," Murray told reporters after the two hours and 47 minute slog.
Murray has typically started the year's first grand slam like a well-oiled machine but for the first two sets the only free movement came from the Scot's vocal chords as he berated himself constantly for limp baseline play and wayward serving.
"Shocking!" Murray howled at the terraces a number of times as he blew a 5-2 lead in the first set.
The 29-year-old was so agitated that he became confused by his drink bottles during a change of ends, unable to differentiate between a 600ml container and a much larger one.
"I know how much I have to drink when it's a certain temperature. I couldn't find how big it was, so I didn't know how much I was having to drink," he said with a sheepish smile as he studied his drink bottle in the post-match news conference.
"I still didn't see (the volume) on the court, but I can actually see it now. It's one litre."
Murray landed less than half his first serves in the match and was broken three times by Marchenko, who was buoyed by the Scot's troubles and swung hard for the lines.
But Murray yelled his way out of the rough patches and gradually shed his tentative ways to rally with aggression.
After edging the second set tiebreak, Murray roared to 5-1 in the third before progressing to a match against Russian qualifier Andrey Rublev who beat Taiwan's Lu Yen-Hsun.
He was not announced as "Sir Andy Murray" when he entered the court to a warm ovation but the Scot, bidding for his first Australian title after losing five finals, had no problem with that.
"Everyone around tennis, everyone that I know has been exactly the same," he said.
"I don't feel like it's been a distraction. It's something I've had to speak about, obviously quite a lot. But I've had enough time to get my head around it."
Defending champion Angelique Kerber battled her nerves and blew a match point in the second set before finally overcoming Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 to reach the second round of the Australian Open on Monday.
The top seeded German was starting the defence of a grand slam title for the first time and made harder and longer work than she might have of advancing to a meeting with compatriot Carina Witthoeft.
"I was actually feeling not too bad," the 28-year-old said after basking in the applause on Rod Laver Arena, where she beat Serena Williams last year to win her first grand slam title.
"From the beginning, I was trying to play my game. I played a good match. There was a little bit where I didn't play too good. I make some simple mistakes in the second set, at the end of the second set.
"But first round matches are always tough."
Kerber perhaps had good reason to fear the embarrassment of becoming only the second woman to fall at the first hurdle in her title defence at the Australian Open.
She had spoken before the tournament about feeling the pressure after her stellar 2016 season, during which she won two major titles, reached the Wimbledon final and became world number one.
Knocked out in the first round at Melbourne Park two years ago, even last year Kerber was match point down against Misaki Doi in her opener before recovering to reach the final.
After losing the first six points of the match, though, Kerber gradually found her range and proved too strong for Tsurenko, who was reduced to scrapping to save her serve and the odd pearl of a consolation point off her rasping backhand.
The nerves returned when Kerber was serving for the match, however, and the world number one angled a backhand into the net on her single match point before her Ukrainian opponent broke back for 5-5.
World number 51 Tsurenko grasped her opportunity with both hands and broke the Australian and U.S. Open champion again after a marathon nine-minute game to send the contest into a decider.
The third set developed into a battle of wills but lefthander Kerber grabbed the key break for a 4-2 lead before rattling off the next two games to advance after more than two hours on court.
"I think it's always good to have a match like this in the first few rounds," said Kerber. "I mean, it's always tough for everybody to get the rhythm and to start the tournament, especially the grand slam, the first grand slam of the year.
"So I think it was not so bad to have a match like that in the first round."