Rafael Nadal insisted his back was "not perfect" but he is hoping the injury improves after easing through the Australian Open first round.

Playing his first competitive match since last year's ATP Finals, Nadal cruised past Laslo Djere 6-3 6-4 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday.

As he eyes a record 21st grand slam title, the Spanish star entered the year's first major under an injury cloud.

Despite his comprehensive first-round victory, Nadal, 34, said his back was still troubling him.

"My back is not perfect, as I said a couple of days ago. Every day that I'm able to go through, probably there are more chances to get better. That's the thing now," he told a news conference.

"There is always a chance to improve, and that's why I'm here playing and fighting to try to get better and then give myself a chance. Today it's not great.

"I needed to change a little bit the motion of my serve. That's what I tried to survive that condition today. Tomorrow a day off.  After tomorrow, another match. I need to go day to day and just try to stay positive.

"Of course every day that I am trying to stay here longer is a day with a chance to get better finally, so that's what I am trying. Trying to do all the things possible to be ready for compete, for what I came here."

Nadal won 40 of 48 points on first serve against Djere, while he mixed 19 winners with 24 unforced errors.

The world number two is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era to win every grand slam at least twice as he aims to add to his 2009 Australian Open title.

"I was able to win in straight sets. It's always a positive start for me," Nadal said.

"Always difficult after not playing for a while, playing an official match in a while. A good start. Happy.

Nadal will face either Viktor Troicki or Michael Mmoh in the second round.

Rafael Nadal opened his bid for a record 21st grand slam title with a straight-sets win over Laslo Djere at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

World number two Nadal, level with the absent Roger Federer for the most men's slams in history, defeated Djere 6-3 6-4 6-1 in the opening round in Melbourne.

Nadal needed less than two hours to earn a meeting with either Viktor Troicki or Michael Mmoh as he appeared to dismiss concerns regarding his fitness at Melbourne Park.

All eyes were on Nadal due to a back problem, which left the star unable to compete for Spain in last week's ATP Cup.

But Nadal looked comfortable as Rod Laver Arena was bathed in sunshine, racing out to a commanding 5-1 lead behind a double-break advantage.

Djere – whose racquet went flying out of his hand and into the court as he served in the fourth game – looked overawed, however once he settled, the Serb reeled off seven successive points to unsettle Nadal.

Nadal, though, survived the fightback to close out the first set from a 0-30 deficit, despite his unforced-error count blowing out to 13 – one more than Djere.

Djere showed glimpses as he continued to make things difficult for Nadal, who had only lost twice previously in the first round of a slam – Steve Darcis (2013 Wimbledon) and Fernando Verdasco (2016 Australian Open).

But Nadal had all the answers, reducing his unforced-error count to nine and raising his winners to eight to claim a commanding two-sets-to-love lead.

Nadal boasted an intimidating record when winning the opening two sets of a slam match – 216-1, with his only loss coming to Fabio Fognini at the 2015 US Open – and he never looked back against Djere.

 

Data Slam: Nadal keeps strong record
Nadal kept a record intact, having never lost an Australian Open match to a player ranked as low as number 56 Djere.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Nadal – 19/24
Djere – 20/36

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Nadal – 5/1
Djere – 4/5

BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal – 6/11
Djere – 1/5

World number one Novak Djokovic is in favour of technology replacing linespeople across the ATP Tour amid the absence of judges at the Australian Open.

This year's Australian Open is being held without line judges as a response to coronavirus restrictions at Melbourne Park, where "Hawk-Eye Live" technology is being used on every court. 

It is the first grand slam to replace all linespeople with technology as the tournament seeks to limit the number of people on court amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Djokovic was sensationally disqualified in the fourth round of last year's US Open for inadvertently hitting a ball at a line judge during his clash with Pablo Carreno Busta in New York.

Asked about the situation at the Australian Open, defending champion and eight-time winner Djokovic told reporters: "I think back [at the] US Open last year, someone asked me whether I would support the idea of introducing this kind of line call technology at every tournament.

"Obviously providing that the tournament is able to afford financially that kind of investment, because obviously it is an investment.

"I said that I support that, because I feel, yes, I understand that there is a tradition and history and the way we kind of got used to the line umpires being there, and I think it's nice that there is a lot of people and also volunteers with these line umpires that love tennis and love to have an opportunity to be out on the court and be close to the players and be part of a great event.

"But I think when you draw a line that generally I actually am in favour of technology. I think it's proven to be very accurate in this particular instance.  I don't see a reason why we need the line umpires, to be honest, if we have technology like this. I would of course keep the ball kids, but line calls I'm in favour of this technology."

Djokovic was speaking after beginning his quest for a ninth Australian Open title with a 6-3 6-1 6-2 win over Jeremy Chardy on Monday.

The 17-time grand slam champion is trying to close the gap on 20-time major winners Roger Federer - who is absent from this year's event - and Rafael Nadal.

"I respect all of my opponents' records. I think especially Roger and Rafa, what they have achieved over the years. They are legends of our sport, and I admire them a lot," Djokovic said. "They have positively affected my game and my growth, my development and all my success. Wouldn't be what it is if these two guys were not there.

"I have had tremendous rivalries with these two guys and we still keep on going. But I don't want any of their success, if you know what I mean. I'm not jealous of their success or anything like that. I try to build my own authentic career and my own success, and I stick to that."

Djokovic added: "I am always motivated and inspired to achieve big goals and break records. I would lie if I say that's not, you know, something that I'm thinking about or that my attention is not going that way.

"I have been very transparent about the fact that one of the biggest goals is to try to reach the number one of all time weeks' record, and I'm getting closer and closer to that one. That's a kind of a lifetime achievement for me. 

"Grand slams, as well. Of course the Masters events, I think the 1000 events over the years I have managed to be very consistent and win a lot of titles there. Those are the biggest events that we have on the four other than grand slams.  The head-to-head records with top guys as well, to name a few. I try to be a good student of the game. 

"I'm just very fortunate to be in this situation and position that I'm in at the moment, so I try to keep on going and obviously setting up new goals for myself, because I feel like other than passion and love that I have for the game and the biggest reason why I still play it is exactly that pure emotion that I have of enjoyment when I'm there and excitement.

"As a professional tennis player, I need to have goals. Over the last 15 years, everything that I have managed to achieve, I don't settle for anything less but the top of the men's game and the biggest trophies.  That's something I always aim for. I work towards that.  And yeah, I'm still lucky to be where I am. Let's see what the future holds."

The war of words between Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios continued on day one of the Australian Open, while Gael Monfils was reduced to tears after a first-round exit.

Reigning champion Djokovic cruised past Jeremy Chardy 6-3 6-1 6-2 in just over an hour and a half but was unwilling to be drawn on comments made by Kyrgios following the home favourite's 6-4 6-4 6-4 success against Frederico Ferreira Silva.

Djokovic, who has now won 15 straight Australian Open matches, will take on Frances Tiafoe next and Kyrgios has a meeting with Ugo Humbert. A potential crossing of their paths on court could not happen until the semi-finals.

Monfils, seeded 10th at Melbourne Park, could not hide his emotions after succumbing to a 3-6 6-4 7-5 3-6 6-3 defeat in a five-set thriller against Emil Ruusuvuori.

Benoit Paire was the only other seed to go out on day one, with Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Diego Schwartzman and Stan Wawrinka picking up victories.

 

"HE'S A STRANGE CAT"

On the eve of the first grand slam of the year Djokovic said he had "no respect" for Kyrgios off the court, which the Australian was confused by as he pointed out the charitable work he has done during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kyrgios was previously critical of the Adria Tour organised by Djokovic last year, which ended with multiple players testing positive for COVID-19.

Asked about the Serbian's pre-tournament comment, Kyrgios said: "It actually would make complete sense to me if he was like, 'Look, I don't respect the guy on the court.' Because I understand if he doesn't agree with some of my antics on the court that I have done in the past.

"He's a very strange cat, Novak is. Heck of a tennis player, but unfortunately someone that's partying with his shirt off during a global pandemic, I don't know if I can take any slack from that man. That's as bad as it gets for me."

When a reporter asked if they could read those comments out to Djokovic in his post-match news conference, the 17-time major champion replied: "You can read it, but I'm not gonna answer to anything."

Upon hearing the remarks and being asked if he had a reply, Djokovic simply said: "No."

 

ANOTHER LOSS FOR MONFILS

Having lost his first-round match to Ruusuvuori, who incredibly saved 17 break points, Monfils remained without a win on the ATP Tour since February 2020.

The Frenchman was eliminated in the first round at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2006 and admitted he had lost all his self-belief and was finding it extremely difficult to get himself back on track.

"I don't have any confidence. I would like to get out of this nightmare but I can't," said Monfils.

"I don’t know when it's going to end. It's hard. Every time I get here I feel judged, I've lost again. I can't serve, I'm playing badly. I'm being honest and it's going to take time."

 

BEST OF THE REST

Thiem made light work of Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6 (7-2) 6-2 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting with Dominik Koepfer, but Zverev had to come from a set down to beat Marcos Giron 6-7 (8-10), 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 6-2. He will face Maxime Cressy next.

Denis Shapovalov also had to fight back to defeat Jannik Sinner, who reached the French Open quarter-finals last year, in an entertaining five-setter on Margaret Court Arena.

Marin Cilic, the runner-up at Melbourne Park in 2018, went down 6-4 6-2 7-6 (7-5) to Grigor Dimitrov, while Pablo Carreno Busta overcame Kei Nishikori 7-5 7-6 (7-4) 6-2.

There were straight-set wins for Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Felix Auger-Aliassime against Paulo Sousa, Federico Coria and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe respectively, and Schwartzman defeated Elias Ymer 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 2-6 6-2.

Naomi Osaka said she was "really nervous" before facing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova but showed no signs of that as she breezed into the second round of the Australian Open.

Osaka looked dominant on day one of the first grand slam of the year as she welcomed being able to play in front of a crowd at Melbourne Park, taking only 68 minutes to wrap up a 6-1 6-2 victory.

The US Open champion has beaten Pavlyuchenkova three times in a row after losing when they first met in 2017 but was wary of facing the Russian on Rod Laver Arena.

Third seed Osaka said: "I was really nervous coming into this match. I know that I've played her before, and it was really tough. I just wanted to play well.

"The most recent memory I have of playing her was in the Osaka final [that Osaka won 6-2 6-3 in 2019], so it's always really hard to play someone that good in the first round.

"For me, I feel like it might have also helped in a way because I calmed my nerves because I felt like I couldn't afford to be that nervous. But, yeah, it was a tough match."

Serena Williams and Simona Halep stormed into round two, but the 2016 champion Angelique Kerber crashed out with a 6-0 6-4 defeat to world number 63 Bernarda Pera.

Alison Riske and Wang Qiang were the only other seeds to fall, losing to teenager Anastasia Potapova and qualifier Sara Errani respectively, while Bianca Andreescu made a winning comeback.

 

Williams sisters among major winners to make serene progress

Serena Williams did not look at all troubled by a shoulder problem as she started her latest quest to win a record-equalling 24th major singles title with a 6-1 6-1 demolition of Laura Siegemund.

Her older sister, Venus, also advanced in straight sets, beating Kirsten Flipkens 7-5 6-2.

Iga Swiatek, the French Open champion, was too good for Arantxa Rus, winning 6-1 6-3, and Petra Kvitova got past Greet Minnen 6-3 6-4.

Kerber will not be claiming a fourth major crown this month after falling to Croatia-born American Pera.

 

Halep planning to oust another Australian

Two-time major winner Halep was a cut above Lizette Cabrera, winning 6-2 6-1 in 59 minutes, and is looking forward to facing another Australia in the second round in the form of Ajla Tomljanovic. 

"I like to be here, so I like to play Australians," Halep quipped.

"I feel good. My body is fit. It's always difficult to play a big hitter. So, I have to be strong on my legs, focus on myself and give my best.

"I expected a tough match because I played against her before and I know how it's gonna be. She's a good opponent, a good player, and I will focus just on myself like I do every time, but I'm ready for a good battle."

Andreescu back in business

Andreescu put her injury woes behind her, battling past Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2 4-6 6-3 in her first match for 15 months.

The Canadian had not played in a grand slam since winning the US Open in 2019 but was back in business on John Cain Arena.

Eighth seed Andreescu said: "After the match, I sat down with my team a little bit, and I'm like, 'Oh, guys, here we go again, those three-setters' and they just started laughing because they obviously knew what they were getting themselves into.

"But those matches are super good for me in my opinion because it really shows that I can scramble when I really need to, or if there's some pressure I can dig my way through it somehow. When my back is against the wall, not only today, but I've noticed throughout my last couple tournaments in 2019, I've been able to pull through with those."

Serena Williams will win a 24th grand slam singles title despite the mental pressure of trying to match the record having held her back, Ana Ivanovic says.

American Williams breezed into the second round of the Australian Open on Monday with a 6-1 6-1 victory over Laura Siegemund.

She won her 23rd major singles title in Melbourne in 2017, taking her to within one of matching the all-time record held by Margaret Court.

However, she has failed to win any of the following 14 slams, marking the longest span in her professional career without lifting any of the four biggest trophies.

Williams has won 22 of her majors over the last two decades, at least 15 more than any other women's player in that time, but her most recent four slam finals have ended in defeat.

Ivanovic, the former world number one who reached the final in Melbourne in 2008, wonders if the significance of matching Court's tally may have added extra pressure on Williams.

However, she remains convinced the 39-year-old will claim another title, telling Stats Perform News: "Yeah, definitely after winning so many grand slams, you still have it and especially [as] she reached so many finals, even though she didn't win a title.

"So, I think it's just a matter of, she proved that she can win matches and she can get a part in the grand slams.

"I think she wants to go further for the record. So I think that's maybe a bigger issue than just winning a title. So, it's both a little bit, I guess mental as well. But I'm sure she can do that. And I'm sure that's why she's there and still pushing and still being on top of the game after so many years."

"She's definitely an icon and a very, very powerful player. And I remember you know, when I played against her, she's very intimidating because her serve is just very, very strong. Her shots are very strong. So you feel like you have to attack and move forward otherwise you don't really have a chance. It was very inspiring to play against her and to play against someone who reached so much in women's sport. I think she will go [down] in history. Definitely."

Reigning champion Sofia Kenin begins her Australian Open defence against home hope Maddison Inglis on Tuesday.

The 22-year-old is hoping to become the first women's player to win successive Australian Opens since Victoria Azarenka back in 2013.

Kenin was a finalist at the French Open last year after winning in Melbourne, having failed even to reach the last eight in her first 11 majors, but she was beaten in straight sets by Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals of the Yarra Valley Classic warm-up tournament.

"She seemed very, very solid and very consistent lately, so of course she has a big chance but, like I said, it's so difficult to talk because you don't see the players playing, you don't see what kind of form they're on and how the last months have been for them," said Ivanovic.

"And you know, without competition for so long again, it definitely is going to [have an] affect but she can indeed [win]. One Australian Open and then she went on to the French Open final, so she's definitely been very, very consistent and she's going to I think try to go again.

"I think that's why it's very hard to predict who will be the winner of a grand slam, especially on the women's side. But on the other hand, it's nice to see new faces and new players coming up, and it also brings new excitement to the tour."

Ivanovic also tipped French Open champion Iga Swiatek to challenge in the latter stages, adding: "I do like Iga Swiatek and the way she plays. I like her aggressive game. I like the fact that she runs around and hits her forehead, it was kind of the style that I had. So I really hope she can keep up the work that she did last year and continue to do well."

Novak Djokovic began his quest for a ninth Australian Open title with a convincing straight-sets win over Jeremy Chardy.

The reigning champion and world number one looked in ruthless form as he won 6-3 6-1 6-2 in a little over an hour and a half.

Djokovic, who beat Dominic Thiem in a five-set thriller in the 2020 final, was in an authoritative mood as he took the first two sets in just 56 minutes.

Chardy, whose best grand slam result was reaching the quarter-finals in Melbourne in 2013, offered some valiant resistance in game five of the third set before Djokovic eventually claimed the crucial double break.

The 17-time major winner eased through the final two games in front of a jubilant crowd, finishing with back-to-back aces to set up a second-round match with Frances Tiafoe.

"It makes my heart full to see the crowd in a stadium again," said Djokovic, who has reached at least the semi-final stage in seven of his previous nine majors.

"There's an ongoing love affair between me and the Rod Laver Arena. It's definitely one of the most special courts on the tennis tour around the world and my most successful. Every time I step on this court, I relive those memories."

Djokovic's preparations for the tournament were overshadowed by a row over quarantine conditions for players arriving in Australia, the 33-year-old having lobbied Tennis Australia and state authorities to loosen restrictions for 72 players who had to spend two weeks in their hotel rooms.

There was little about his performance on Monday to suggest any distractions from the task at hand, although he bristled a little in the on-court interview when it was put to him he had been "frustrated" in recent weeks.

"I'm just really glad we're free, playing tennis, back in Australia," he then said. "It's a happy place for us, a happy slam."

 

Data Slam: Djokovic at his clinical best

Djokovic dropped just nine points on serve and hit 41 winners to just 11 unforced errors, sending down nine aces and one double fault.

Such imperious play left Chardy, who had lost all 13 of their previous encounters, with little chance of an upset.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 41/11
Chardy – 20/26

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 9/1
Chardy – 3/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 6/13
Chardy – 0/0

Serena Williams took inspiration from the "unbelievable" Tom Brady as she cruised into the second round of the Australian Open with a "vintage" performance.

Brady made yet more history on Sunday, the most successful player in NFL history winning a seventh Super Bowl as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9.

The incredible Brady, 43, showed age is no barrier, throwing three touchdown passes – two of which were scored by his long-time friend Rob Gronkowski – and completing 21 of 29 throws for 201 yards.

Brady did now allow any interceptions as he picked up the MVP award at Raymond James Stadium.

Williams started her quest for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title with a 6-1 6-1 defeat of Laura Siegemund on Monday, then paid tribute to her fellow American Brady.

She said of his exploits: "It's unbelievable. I just was watching as much as I could to see. My only word is it's unbelievable. I kept saying: 'This is unbelievable, this is unreal'.

"You can't say it was the system he was at formerly [the New England Patriots]. It's definitely Tom Brady, he's Tom Brady. He's amazing."

Brady banished everyone from his house in the days leading up to the Super Bowl so he could fully focus on inspiring the Buccaneers to victory, but the 39-year-old Williams said she could never do the same as she would not want to be separated from her daughter, Olympia.

"I would not be able to go function without my three-year-old around," Williams said. "I think I would be in a depression.

"We've been together every day of her life, so... Is that healthy? Not at all! Not even close. But every single day I just want to be around her. It's great. Everyone's different.

"I can totally understand why he would banish because if I had the strength to do it, I would too.

"I could see it's definitely a distraction, especially every year that I've played except for the past few months, I finally am starting to get better at it. The first two and a half years was very difficult. I wasn't strong enough to do the banishment."

Williams, who will face Nina Stojanovic in the second round at Melbourne Park, was delighted with the manner in which she swept Siegemund aside and had no issues with her shoulder after withdrawing from a pre-tournament event citing an injury problem.

"This was a good start. Definitely vintage 'Rena'. It's definitely good. I think I'm pretty good at pacing myself in a grand slam," she said.

"I was happy just to get through it. Wasn't sure how my serve would be after a little bit of that shoulder, but it's feeling good, I'm feeling good. So, it felt really good.

"Last year was very crazy for the world, and to be able to do what I love and to be able to come out and compete and play at a grand slam, after the last 12 months, it makes me appreciate the moment even more."

Serena Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th grand slam title started with a comprehensive win over Laura Siegemund at the Australian Open.

The American star was dominant on her way to a 6-1 6-1 victory over Siegemund on Rod Laver Arena on Monday.

Williams is aiming to join Margaret Court on a record 24 grand slam singles titles and she had no problems against the German in Melbourne.

She improved to 20-0 in the first round of the Australian Open, showing few signs of a shoulder injury she expects to be dealing with throughout the tournament.

Williams lost just 10 games in her previous two wins over Siegemund, but the seven-time Australian Open winner was broken in the opening game.

But Siegemund produced too many errors from then on, Williams winning in just 56 minutes to set up a clash against Nina Stojanovic.

 

Data Slam: Serena cruises after initial nerves
Williams was broken to 15 in the opening game when Siegemund produced a forehand return winner. However, she steadied, reeling off the next 10 games on her way to a comfortable win.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Williams – 16/15
Siegemund – 4/20

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Williams – 4/1
Siegemund – 0/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Williams – 6/9
Siegemund – 1/1

Rafael Nadal is "doing everything possible" to play a part in the Australian Open after suffering from back pain for the past two weeks.

The 34-year-old pulled out of Spain's line-up for the ATP Cup earlier this week and was last in competitive action in November's ATP Finals.

Nadal is due to face Laslo Djere in the first round on Tuesday as he seeks a second Australian Open title, but the Spaniard cannot guarantee he will be able to play the match.

"It's not great, obviously," he said. "It's true that for the last 15 days I have been suffering.

"In the beginning, the muscle was just a little bit tired, but I now feel a little bit more stiff than usual.

"The muscle is still tight, so it is difficult to play with freedom of movement."

But Nadal, who has a history of back injuries, is refusing to withdraw from the tournament.

"I have Monday and then playing Tuesday. I don't think about not playing," he said.

"We are doing everything. My physio is here, the doctors [are] here, everybody is helping me in all possible ways. I hope to be ready, that's all. I know sometimes things change quick."

Nadal is not alone in entering the first grand slam of the year below full strength, with the likes of Serena Williams, Sofia Kenin and Naomi Osaka also battling injury problems.

However, the world number two will not use his niggling back issue as an excuse should he suffer an early exit at Melbourne Park.

"I'm not a big fan of finding excuses," he said. "When things happen, you need to find a way to get through."

Nadal can surpass Roger Federer for all-time majors should he triumph at the Australian Open.

He is also looking to become only the second man after Rod Laver to win each major on more than one occasion in the Open era, but his only previous success at the tournament came 12 years ago.

"I think I had the big chance in 2014. I got injured during the match on the back. It was tough," he said.

"I had another good chance in 2012, another good chance in 2017 with a break up in the fifth. I just didn't win the match. 

"That's all, I can't find another reason. It is true that I missed a couple of Australian Opens for injuries, too."

World number four Daniil Medvedev clinched ATP Cup success for Russia, who defeated Italy in Melbourne on Sunday.

On the eve of the Australian Open, Medvedev boosted his preparations by guiding Russia past Italy thanks to a 6-4 6-2 victory over Matteo Berrettini at Melbourne Park.

It was a dominant display from Russia, who won all eight singles matches they played in the ATP Cup, after Andrey Rublev overpowered Fabio Fognini 6-1 6-2 in the second matchup.

"I want to thank my team. Andrey won all of his matches," Medvedev said. "Thank you for being with me here and lifting this trophy in a few moments."

Medvedev heads in Monday's Australian Open in red-hot form, having won a personal-best 14 successive matches, dating back to the start of last year's Paris Masters.

Of those victories, 10 have come against top-10 opponents as 2019 US Open runner-up Medvedev – seeded fourth for the year's first grand slam – prepares to face Vasek Pospisil on Tuesday.

"It's a really big achievement because I also didn't lose a match. Yeah, 10 matches against Top 10 opponents, didn't lose a match in these 10 matches. It's a big boost in confidence," Medvedev said.

"Even when you lose, you know that you're capable of playing this level, and it helps you for the next time to stand up."

While Italy did not taste team success, Jannik Sinner claimed the Great Ocean Road Open on Sunday.

Sinner overcame countryman Stefano Travaglia 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 to earn his second title following the first all-Italian ATP Tour final since 1988.

The 19-year-old Sinner is the youngest player to win two ATP Tour titles since world number one Novak Djokovic (19) in 2006, while he is also the youngest player to celebrate back-to-back trophies since 20-time grand slam champion Rafael Nadal (19) in 2005.

Elsewhere, eighth seed Daniel Evans defeated Canadian sensation Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-2 6-3 to claim his first tour-level title.

Evans became the first Brit to win an ATP Tour title since Kyle Edmund at the New York Open last February.

World number one Novak Djokovic said he does not have "much respect" for outspoken Australian star Nick Kyrgios away from the tennis court.

Kyrgios has been critical of Djokovic in an ongoing feud with the 17-time grand slam champion, who was labelled a "tool" by the former following a list of requests made to Tennis Australia (TA) and the Victorian government for tennis players stuck in hotel quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Former world number 13 Kyrgios was also critical of Djokovic's decision to stage the Adria Tour in Europe last August – in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis – having previously dubbed the Serb star "cringeworthy".

Djokovic rekindled his rivalry with Kyrgios after being asked about the 25-year-old on the eve of the Australian Open.

"I've said this before," Djokovic told reporters on Sunday. "I think he's good for the sport. Obviously he's someone that is different. He goes about his tennis, he goes about his off court things in his own authentic way. 

"I have respect for him. I have respect for everyone else really because everyone has a right and freedom to choose how they want to express themselves, what they want to do. My respect goes to him for the tennis he's playing. I think he's very talented guy. He's got a big game. He has proven that he has a quality to beat any player really in the world in the past.

"Off the court, I don't have much respect for him, to be honest. That's where I'll close it. I really don't have any further comments for him, his own comments for me or anything else he's trying to do."

Djokovic has won the past two Australian Open finals as he eyes a record-extending ninth Melbourne Park crown.

The 33-year-old, who opens his title defence against Jeremy Chardy on Monday, has won the Australian Open every time he has reached the semi-finals.

Djokovic has reached at least the semi-finals in seven of his last nine grand slam tournaments, winning five of them.

No male has won more Australian Open men's singles titles than Djokovic, who said: "It's a love affair. Probably something similar maybe not like Rafa [Nadal] has with the French Open, but I've been feeling more comfortable on the court each year that I've been coming back. 

"The more you win, obviously the more confidence you have and the more pleasant you feel on the court. It just feels right. If you're in the right state of mind, regardless of the surface, you have a better chance to play at your best.

"When I stepped on the court this year for the first time in the practice session, I relived some of the memories from last year, also the other years that I won the tournament here.

"It just gives me great sensation, great feeling, confidence. It feels right. It feels like the place where I should be and where I have historically always been able to perform my best tennis. Hopefully can be another successful year."

Asked if he still feels nerves, Djokovic – who is looking to close the gap on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (both 20) for the most slam trophies – added: "Every match, every match. Every single match. I don't want to speak on behalf of the other athletes, but I just feel like it's almost impossible to eliminate that kind of pressure, anticipation, the nerves coming into any match really for an athlete. At least in my case.

"It's just that I managed over the years to train myself, I think with the experience and with also the dedication that I had off the court to the mental preparation, that helped me react better to those kind of emotions. Sometimes I don't manage to overcome the pressures and the stress and nerves. Sometimes I do. It really just depends. Even though I've been blessed to experience a lot of success, especially here in Australia, but also in my career. I still feel that those failures, if you want to call them that way, even though I don't believe in failures, I just believe in opportunities to improve, kind of the lessons to be learned, but in those matches you lose, big matches, that's where you learn the most.

"That's where you're facing the kind of wall mentally. You're upset. You have a lot of different things happening, and you feel like you let yourself down. That's where it's the biggest opportunity for you to really address that and become stronger, more capable. You can get to know yourself a little bit on deeper levels. It still happens to me.

"Every single tournament, regardless of my previous success, of course I do feel that I have more confidence, more experience, maybe more training in understanding how to deal with these specific situations when I'm coming on the big court, being expected to win 99 per cent of the matches that I play.

"But it's still there. It's still there. I don't think it's ever going to go away. Especially when the occasion is big, when you're playing for the biggest trophies."

World number one Ash Barty ended her Australian Open preparations with a title after defeating Garbine Muguruza in the Yarra Valley Classic final.

Barty – gearing up for the year's first grand slam which gets underway in Melbourne on Monday – defeated sixth seed and 2020 Australian Open runner-up Muguruza 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 on Sunday.

Looking to add to her 2019 French Open crown, Australian star Barty claimed her ninth WTA Tour trophy and second on home soil.

"It was some of the better tennis I played throughout the whole week," Barty, who had not played in a competitive tournament since last February, told reporters in her post-match news conference.

"Garbine forced me to play at that level. It was a great final."

Barty added: "Overall it was a pretty solid performance. I'm still my harshest critic at times. That's the challenge of sport every day, is trying to get better and better."

Elsewhere in Melbourne, Elise Mertens clinched the Gippsland Trophy with a 6-4 6-1 win over Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi.

Mertens – the seventh-seeded Belgian – returned to the winner's circle following two runner-up finishes in 2020.

As for Anett Kontaveit and Ann Li, they shared the Grampians Trophy on Sunday.

The Grampians Trophy did not have a final, the WTA announced, due to time running out before the Australian Open begins. Thursday's play was cancelled as a precautionary measure after a case of coronavirus involving a worker from a hotel that had housed quarantining tennis stars.

Kontaveit outlasted fifth seed Maria Sakkari 2-6 6-3 11-9 in the first semi-final, while Li upset seventh seed Jennifer Brady 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (5-7) 10-6.

Has the time come for a former world number one to end her wait for a first grand slam title since becoming a mother?

It is a question that has been asked time and again since Serena Williams returned in 2018 following the birth of her daughter, Alexis Olympia.

The legendary American must have long since become tired of being asked whether she can match Margaret Court's record of 24 major singles triumphs, with her last success coming when she was pregnant at the 2017 Australian Open.

While the 39-year-old - beaten in four grand slam finals after coming back to the tour - will be expected to mount a challenge over the next fortnight, it could be another mother who is celebrating at Melbourne Park.

It is eight years since Victoria Azarenka claimed her second grand slam title at the Australian Open, but the 31-year-old has shown there could be more to come.

Azarenka beat Williams for the first time in a major to reach the final of the US Open last year, but she then endured the agony of losing to Naomi Osaka.

That was her first championship match at a grand slam in seven years, having given birth to her son, Leo, late in 2016 before a prolonged child custody dispute badly disrupted her career.

A resurgent Azarenka took her tally of WTA Tour singles titles to 21 by winning the Western and Southern Open last August and was named the Comeback Player of the Year for 2020, as she headed back towards the peak of her powers.

The world number 13 claimed both of her grand slam titles at the Australian Open and will face Jessie Pegula in the first round next week.

Azarenka said she is enjoying her tennis more than ever and Michael Joyce, her former coach, believes she has a great chance of making a dream start to the year.

Joyce, who also coached Pegula, told Stats Perform News: "Vika has got as good a chance as anyone in Australia. She's back at the top, where she belongs.

"She won the Western and Southern and came so close at the [US] Open. She's also had some very tough draws as she's worked her way back, so she's done incredibly well to get back where she is.

"Opponents won't want to play her. If Vika gets through a couple of rounds, she can be very dangerous. Once she gets momentum, she can be hard to stop."

The great Martina Navratilova declared after Azarenka's run to the final at Flushing Meadows that she had witnessed "a new Vika" with extra punch in her shots" and "stronger than ever before".

Azarenka's positive outlook has also been evident off the court, as she recently launched a 'Think About It' podcast series, in which she engaged in in-depth conversations with the likes of motivational guru Trevor Moawad and professional rock climber Sasha DiGiulian.

The aim of the series was for Azarenka and her audience to learn from 'power players' in a variety of industries and show the strength that can be forged from vulnerability.

Azarenka's rivals may be feeling vulnerable in Melbourne as they think about how to go about beating the Belarus-born star.

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