Melbourne, Jan 16: Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka won 12 straight games to finish off the opening match on center court at the Australian Open in 67 minutes Monday, a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Heather Watson of Britain.
Azarenka, one of six women who can finish atop the rankings depending on results at Melbourne Park, is coming off a win at the Sydney International last week and is high on confidence.
The Sydney champion has gone on to reach the Australian Open final six times since 1997, winning twice. Li Na won in Sydney last year but lost the Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters. Both Clijsters and Li were in action later Monday.
Azarenka beat Li in the Sydney final on Friday night and is starting to gain a following in Melbourne's Chinese community.
“After beating Li Na, a lot of Chinese people started recognizing me,” the 22-year-old from Belarus said of her experience at a Chinese restaurant. “That's a plus.”
She'll get more local attention in coming days, with a second-round match against Australian wild-card entry Casey Dellacqua, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski.
After an unusually cool buildup to the tournament, players were confronted with a strong breeze and temperatures approaching 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) on Monday.
Clijsters was due to play Maria Joao Koehler of Portugal and Li, the French Open champion, had a first-round match against Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan. Top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, still searching for a maiden major title, faces Australia's Anastasia Rodionova.
Two of the biggest names in the men's game are on the same side of the draw for the first time since 2005, which means only one of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal can reach the final.
Third-seeded Federer, a four-time Australian Open winner, is on Rod Laver Arena in a Monday night match against Russian qualifier Alexander Kudryavtsev. No. 2-ranked Nadal has the last match on Hisense Arena—the second show court at Melbourne Park—against Russian Alex Kuznetsov.
There's likely to be extra tension between the two men who have 26 Grand Slam titles between them and have always been respectful rivals.
Nadal criticized Federer on the weekend for letting other players “burn themselves” by complaining about tour conditions while maintaining his good reputation by rarely making negative comments about tennis.
After telling a pre-tournament news conference Sunday he had no intention of being the frontman for the players' grievances because it has reflected badly on him in the past, Nadal was then critical of 16-time Grand Slam winner Federer in a Spanish-language interview.
Responding to the suggestion that Federer disliked players complaining openly about problems on the tour because it tarnished the image of tennis, Nadal said he took another view.
“No, I totally disagree,” he said in comments translated from Spanish. “For him it's good to say nothing. Everything positive. ‘It's all well and good for me, I look like a gentleman,' and the rest can burn themselves.”