Swiss tennis star Roger Federer opens Aussie Open with win

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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MELBOURNE, Australia It was after midnight and long after Roger Federer is accustomed to finishing work in the first round of the Australian Open.

No problem. The Swiss star said hed taken time to watch the sun set over Rod Laver Arena while he waited to start the last match on centre court.

It was a far different prelude than to his challenging 2008 season, his leanest in four years in terms of Grand Slam titles.

The 27-year-old Federer commenced his quest for a 14th major to equal Pete Sampras career record Monday with a 6-1, 7-6 (4), 7-5 first-round win over 35th-ranked Andreas Seppi of Italy.

It was a difficult opener, considering Seppi is only just outside the top 32 players who are seeded for the tournament.

Federer was sick and tired with mononucleosis this time last year and that dogged him for months.

I wasnt fit, I had hardly played any matches, had any practice, he said. This year I had much more preparation and I feel I know where my games at.

After losing to Novak Djokovic here in the semifinals, then losing the French Open and Wimbledon finals and the No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal, Federers confidence picked up when he won the U.S. Open.

Losing those cherished titles helped change his perspective. Helped him be more expressive.

Maybe Im a bit more relaxed, he said. The times when youre No. 1 in the world, you put your head down, you try to win as many tournaments as possible. Maybe sometimes you forget to enjoy it.

Maybe just today or the last six months, as well, after having a tough year, sometimes you can show more (emotion) because youve been through a tough time.

I show maybe a bit more emotions, a bit more happiness, which maybe people didnt see before.

Seventh-seeded American Andy Roddick took a more businesslike approach to his opening match, committing only 10 unforced errors in a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 win over 31-year-old Swedish qualifier Bjorn Rehnquist.

Elsewhere, Stephanie Dubois of Laval, Que., lost her first-round match, 6-0, 7-6 (5) to Japans Ai Sugiyama.

Two of Serbias biggest celebrities followed Roddick on centre court and another played at the same time on the adjacent show court.

Djokovic, the only player apart from Federer or Nadal to win a title in the last 15 majors, had to rally from service breaks in the last two sets he was down 4-0 in the third to oust Andrea Stoppini 6-2, 6-3, 7-5.

His fellow Serbs Ana Ivanovic and top-ranked Jelena Jankovic got through in straight sets on the womens side.

Ivanovic, runner-up last year, overcame an error-prone start to advance 7-5, 6-3 over 107th-ranked Julia Goerges of Germany.

I dont expect myself to step on the court and play perfect tennis from very first moment, said Ivanovic, sentiments the other Serbs shared. You just want to give yourself the best possible chance and give time to work yourself into the tournament.

Jankovic, needing ice to cool down the soles of her shoes as temperatures topped 36 C, had 27 winners to four for No. 104 Yvonne Meusburger in winning 6-1, 6-3.

Jankovic holds the top ranking but has yet to win a major, something the Williams sisters have been proficient at with 16 between them.

Second-seeded Serena Williams, the reigning U.S. Open champion and winner each odd year at Melbourne Park since 2003, faces Yuan Meng of China on Tuesday.

Sixth-seeded Venus, who won her fifth Wimbledon title and finished off 2008 by winning the season-ending tour championship, goes against Angelique Kerber of Germany.

Fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva of Russia, unbeaten in 10 matches this year and winner of the Beijing Olympic gold medal, plays Kristina Barrois.

Nadal starts his second consecutive major as the top seed in a night match against Christophe Rochus of Belgium, about the same time No. 9 James Blake is due to play Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont.

Fourth-seeded Andy Murray, heavily backed in Britain after three wins over Federer since losing to the Swiss star in the U.S. Open final, gets under way against Andrei Pavel of Romania.

Murrays emergence has people talking now about the Big Four in mens tennis, elevating the 21-year-old Scot into the company of Djokovic, also 21, 22-year-old Nadal and Federer.

Roddick, who lost finals at Wimbledon to Federer in 2004 and 05 and at the 2006 U.S. Open, doesnt think he or anybody else could claim to be on the same level of the top for last season.

They absolutely deserve to be the four that get talked about right now, he said. The thing about sports is no one really remembers yesterday, and thats fair. You have to go out and prove yourself on a daily basis. I have no problem with that.

Organizations: U.S. Open, Australian Open

Geographic location: Wimbledon, Australia, Italy Germany Laval Melbourne Park China Russia Belgium Niagara Falls Britain Romania

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