Federer's mood matches day of tension

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The Independent Online

Wimbledon it was not. A murky haze from nearby bush fires hung over the city all day, groups of well-fuelled young men in football shirts led raucous chanting and 150 spectators were ejected after scuffles broke out between Croats, Serbs and Greeks.

Welcome to the Australian Open, which, in meteorological terms at least, got under way in subdued fashion yesterday, with the mercury failing to top 24C. Temperatures approaching 40C are forecast for the next two days, however, and Andy Murray must have been grateful to learn that his opening match today against Alberto Martin is not scheduled to start before 7.30pm (8.30am in Britain).

While strong winds and intense heat will fan the flames raging over large areas of Victoria, you can only hope that they will not further ignite the flag-waving groups of supporters who formed a significant proportion of the record first-day crowd of 55,000.

Football has helped to create a boisterous rivalry between some of the large ethnic groups who make up the Melbourne melting pot and 40 police officers had to move in at lunchtime after violence erupted in the Garden Square area of Melbourne Park.

A police spokeswoman said most of the fans ejected were Serbs, who were "upsetting the Croatians". The Serbs were chanting, "Die Croats, die!" and were joined by Greek fans shouting "Greece, Serbia, Greece, Serbia!"

Croatian supporters claimed that the Serbian fans had breached an understanding that the former would attend the tournament on the first day and the latter the second. "Monday is our day every year," one of the Croats said. "We have to fight back." A strong police presence is certain today on Court 21, where Croatia's Marin Cilic faces Serbia's Ilia Bozoljac.

To complete a bad opening day for the Croats, the tournament's first significant loser was Ivan Ljubicic. The No 4 seed, who overcame Murray in the final of the Qatar Open 10 days ago, was beaten in four sets by America's Mardy Fish, who in the last 11 months has climbed 299 places in the world rankings to No 42 after wrist surgery.

On Sunday Roger Federer had described this tournament as the "Happy Slam", yet even the world No 1 appeared to be in a tetchy mood. Federer beat Bjorn Phau 7-5, 6-0, 6-4 but dropped his serve three times in the first set, in which he trailed 5-3.

Phau, the world No 82, had gone into the match as one of the few players with a positive head-to-head record against Federer, having beaten him in their only previous meeting eight years ago.

Andy Roddick, who beat Federer in the final of the Kooyong Classic invitation event at the weekend, also spent much of his first match with a scowl on his face, despite beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-3. Tsonga, 6ft 2in tall and more than 14st, looks like a young Muhammad Ali, whom he lists as his all-time sporting hero, but the Frenchman seemed intimidated by Roddick's aggressive manner.

The world No 6, who frequently glared at Tsonga across the net, was involved in a running row with the umpire, Carlos Ramos, over disputed line calls. Video replays are used here, but only on the main court. Roddick accused Ramos of being "scared to get involved in the match", and shouted: "I think we need machines."

Roddick lost the first tie-break 20-18, equalling the record for the longest in the tournament's history, and trailed 5-3 in the second set. But Tsonga dropped his next service game to love and rarely looked in contention thereafter.

Tsonga, whose father is Congolese, has had major injury problems and this was only his sixth match at tour level, but he has beaten Carlos Moya, Mario Ancic and Xavier Malisse. In the world No 212's only previous appearance at a Grand Slam he lost in the first round at Roland Garros two years ago - to Roddick.

Amélie Mauresmo and Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded No 2 and No 3 respectively, won in straight sets, but the most significant female winner of the day was Serena Williams. The former world No 1, playing only her sixth tournament in the last 16 months, beat Italy's Mara Santangelo, the No 27 seed, 6-2, 6-1.

The former champion Marat Safin had his endurance tested by the German Benjamin Becker before coming through 5-7, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. The 26th seed, who ended Andre Agassi's career at last year's US Open, struggled against Becker's speed and angled groundstrokes before prevailing in three hours and 26 minutes.

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