Roddick has edge in pulverising battle

World No 1s make progress but 14 seeds are eliminated on opening day of the Australian Open
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The Independent Online

Fernando Gonzales beats the living daylights out of the ball with his forehand, and Andy Roddick's serve is the stuff of legend. The hitting was fast and furious when the pair met in the first round of the Australian Open yesterday, but the American No 1 seed used his brain as well as brute force.

Roddick, the United States Open champion, vanquished the Chilean 6-2, 7-5, 7-6, and said afterwards that it was a match he was pleased to have over. "It's weird to get used to, because I like to think I'm the hardest hitter out there, but a lot of the time you feel you're at his mercy rather than controlling the points," he said.

Gonzales was unhappy about two line calls that went against him at crucial times, giving Roddick set point at 6-5 in the second set and enabling him to break back in the third for 5-5. The world No 35 made his feelings plain to the umpire, Andreas Egli, who was the object of Greg Rusedski's wrath two years ago, when the British No 2 played Tim Henman here at Melbourne Park.

Yesterday's match featured some ferocious tennis, with the two men pulverising the ball so pitilessly that you expected it to disintegrate in a puff of yellow smoke. Gonzales saved three break points but then lost his serve in the sixth game and drove a backhand into the net to give Roddick the first set.

The 23-year-old Chilean alternated spectacular forehand winners with dreadful errors in the second set, failing to convert rare break points conceded by Roddick. The set went with serve until Gonzales, serving at 5-6 and 30-30, was crushed by the first of the controversial line calls.

Watched by a crowd that included Sir Cliff Richard in an unusual blue and white shirt, Gonzales recovered and exploited a lapse of concentration by the 21-year-old American in the third set, breaking for 2-1 and then saving five break points. But, as ever, the Roddick serve dug its owner out a hole. He broke back in the 10th game and dominated the tie-break, sewing up victory on the second match point.

Gonzales said afterwards: "He played better than me, and his serve is unbelievable. It was only my second match this year, and I didn't feel very confident."

Roddick, top-seeded in a grand slam for the first time, was asked how life had changed since he became No 1. "I've got more guys gunning for me," he joked, then added: "But I've still got to win seven matches." He agreed that the top ranking was "absolutely up for grabs" this year, with the men's field chock-full of talent. "I'll hang on to it as long as I can, but it will probably rotate a couple of times," he said.

The women's No 1, Justine Henin-Hardenne, also won her first-round match, but with considerably greater ease. The French and US Open champion was drawn against a 15-year-old Australian wild card, Olivia Lukaszewicz, and the 6-0, 6-0 defeat evoked a ritual slaughter that was, at least, mercifully short - 45 minutes.

Lukaszewicz, who found herself playing her first grand slam match against the best player in the world in the Rod Laver Arena, was impressively composed. But she won so few points that her rare successes elicited hysterical shrieks and, when she had a flurry of break points against the Belgian in the second set, the crowd almost exploded with excitement. Needless to say, they were saved by Henin-Hardenne.

The Belgian said her two victories in majors last year had given her a lot of confidence. "I just stay very calm and focus on my game," she said. "I'm feeling very good right now." Lukaszewicz, ranked No 870, said she had enjoyed the experience.

The first day of the tournament saw a massacre of seeds, with eight men and six women eliminated. Male casualties included three former Australian Open runners-up: the No 7 seed, Carlos Moya, who withdrew injured before even hitting a ball; the No 30, Arnaud Clement; and sixth-seeded Rainer Schüttler, who was beaten in last year's final. Younes El Aynaoui, the No 18, retired with an ankle injury.

Chile's Nicolas Massu, the No 12 seed, went down 6-1, 6-7, 6-2, 6-3 to Jarkko Nieminen, of Finland, while Mardy Fish, the No 21, was beaten by Ivo Karlovic after three tie-breaks. Spain's Tommy Robredo, seeded No 20, was defeated by Gaston Gaudio, while Thomas Enqvist, of Sweden, accounted for the 29th seed, Vincent Spadea.

The two biggest scalps on the women's side were both Russians: Elena Dementieva, the No 7, beaten by Jelana Jankovic, 6-1, 6-4; and Nadia Petrova, the No 10, who lost 6-3, 6-3 to Aniko Kapros.

A disappointed Dementieva said she might skip the Open in future. "I never play well here," she said. "I think it's impossible to be ready to play, after being with my family in Moscow at Christmas."

Also knocked out were Meghann Shaughnessy, the No 17 seed, Magui Serna, the No 16, Tisna Pisknik, the No 26, and Tamarine Tanasugarn, the No 31.

Andre Agassi, the defending champion, moved into the second round, sweeping aside an Australian qualifier, Todd Larkham, 6-1, 6-3, 6-4.

"The first match is always a bit awkward," Agassi said. "I had to play well to close him out."