Melbourne: Fifth seed Ana Ivanovic crashed out of the Australian Open in the first round Monday but rising stars Simona Halep and Grigor Dimitrov successfully kicked off their bids for Grand Slam glory.
The former world number one Serb came into the tournament full of confidence after a stellar 2014 that saw her race through the rankings. But she began her year in the worst possible way, blowing her chances against unheralded world number 142 Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic after easily winning the first set.
Hradecka bounced back to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, leaving Ivanovic and her Australian fans stunned. Highly-rated Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic, who made the US Open quarter-finals last year, was another early casualty.
Seeded 32, Bencic, 17, lost 6-2, 6-1 to world number 73 Julia Goerges of Germany, who out-played and out-served her more fancied opponent. Tournament big guns Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova play later Monday, while top seeds Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic and defending men's champion Stan Wawrinka are in action on Tuesday.
Women's champion Li Na of China has retired and is not taking part this year. Halep opened the 2015 proceedings on a cool day with the wind swirling around Rod Laver Arena with a 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Italy's Karin Knapp in 88 minutes.
The Romanian, a quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park last year, is looking to build on a breakthrough 2014 when she reached the French Open final and the semi-finals at Wimbledon.
The 23-year-old admitted she felt anxious appearing in the first centre court match of this year's tournament and struggled to put away Knapp, ranked number 50 in the world. "It was a tough match for me and I was very nervous before the match, but I'm very happy now and I'm sure that next time I'll play better," she said.
Despite the emphatic scoreline, Halep's display fell well short of the form she showed earlier this month to win her ninth WTA title at the Shenzhen Open. "I started well in Shenzhen and won the tournament there but the first Slam is different and there's much pressure here and I feel that," explained the Romanian, who will now face Australian hope Jarmila Gajdosova.
- Windy conditions challenging -
Tenth seed Dimitrov, dubbed "Baby Fed" for his playing similarities to Swiss great Federer and a picture-perfect one-handed backhand, also progressed with an easy straight sets victory over German Dustin Brown.
The Bulgarian was never in trouble as he powered to a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win in just 69 minutes, impressing with his all court coverage and groundstrokes. At the vanguard of the new order of younger players, the 23-year-old said he was happy with his start but the windy conditions on the outside courts were challenging. "It was a good start for me. Of course, I expected it to be tricky," he said.
"I think it was just a little tough for everyone to get into that rhythm, to get used to the court. It was pretty windy today." He will next face either Slovakia's Lukas Lacko or Argentine Maximo Gonzalez with world number six Andy Murray a potential fourth round opponent.
Other seeds through included China's Peng Shuai, who beat German qualifier Tatjana Maria in straight sets, and French men's 29th seed Jeremy Chardy. But two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded 27 and playing in her 14th Australian Open, was eliminated in straight sets by France's Caroline Garcia.
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