MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic got back to doing what he does best on Monday when he steamrollered Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena in the opening round of the Australian Open.
Having come through two weeks of quarantine in Adelaide, and a brief but damaging spat with his hosts over the terms of the isolation, the world number one let his tennis do the talking as he eased to a 297th Grand Slam victory.
Djokovic has won eight of his 17 major titles on Melbourne Park's main show court and, even with a smaller crowd than usual, the Serbian looked very much at home on the distinctive blue surface.
"There's an ongoing love affair with me and this court," he said to cheers from the fans. "I've been lucky to have so much success on this court and hopefully it will continue for many years. It makes my heart full to see so many people in the stadium. This is the most people I've seen on a tennis court in 12 months. Thank you."
Chardy had never taken a set off his opponent in 13 previous matches and with Djokovic landing three-quarters of his first serves, the Frenchman was unable to muster a single breakpoint.
With Djokovic finding the corners with his ranging strokes to rattle up 41 winners, Chardy's small victories were the occasions when he battled back to hold his serve.
Djokovic brought a definitive end to the unequal contest with back-to-back aces after 91 minutes and will next play American world number 62 Frances Tiafoe in the second round.
Serena Williams took the first step on what she hopes will be the path to a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title in some style on Monday with a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing of Germany's Laura Siegemund.
The 39-year-old American, who had never failed to get through the first round in 19 previous visits to Melbourne Park, made a faltering start with a double fault on the first point and gave up her serve in the first game.
Williams lost just one more game over the one-hour contest, however, overpowering her hapless opponent with thumping serves and howitzer forehands in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd of unmasked fans on Rod Laver Arena.
Next up for the seven-time Australian Open champion in her quest to match Australian Margaret Court's record tally of Grand Slam titles is a second-round tie against Serbian Nina Stojanovic.
Dominic Thiem overcame an early wobble before overpowering Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-3 to reach the second round.
Third seed Thiem was broken twice in the first set and had to fight off a set point at 6-5 before rallying to take the tiebreak at Rod Laver Arena.
Sixth seed Alexander Zverev overcame an inconsistent start to battle past unheralded American Marcos Giron 6-7 (8), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-2 in the opening round and keep his hopes of winning his first Grand Slam title alive.
After losing the first-set tiebreak, Zverev went up an early service break in the second. Zverev was serving for the set but Giron broke him to make it 5-4, prompting the German player to smash his racket in frustration and pick up a code violation.
Simona Halep skipped briskly into the second round with a business-like 6-2, 6-1 demolition of local wildcard Lizette Cabrera.
Naomi Osaka made a stunning start by demolishing triple quarter-finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2.
Former champion Angelique Kerber made an early exit and said spending two weeks in hard quarantine ahead of the Grand Slam had contributed to her first-round loss.
She was ousted by American BernardaPera was 6-0, 6-4 in little more than an hour on the first morning of the tournament.
Canadian eighth seed Bianca Andreescu was made to work hard on her return to competition after 15 months, the 2019 US Open winner digging deep to see off MihaelaBuzarnescu of Romania 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. She faces a second-round matchup against Taiwan's Hsieh Su-Wei, who earlier beat US Open quarter-finalist TsvetanaPironkova of Bulgaria 7-5, 6-2.
Japan's Kei Nishikori reckons he played some of his best tennis since returning from injury last year but it still was not enough to stop him from suffering a first-round exit. The former world number four, a four-time quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park, bowed out 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-2 to Spanish 15th seed Pablo Carreno-Busta. Agencies