Novak Djokovic starts title defense with routine win

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic didn't have any trouble in his first match back on Rod Laver Arena since his shirt-ripping victory celebrations last year, starting his bid for a third consecutive Australian Open title with a 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 win today over veteran Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu.

Top-ranked Djokovic faced only three break points in the match, saving them all, and lifted his tempo when it counted most.

His five-set, 5-hour, 53-minute win over Rafael Nadal in the 2012 final is already part of Australian Open folklore.

He tore off his shirt and flexed his muscles after the marathon win last year, and is hoping to add another chapter to story by becoming the first man to win three consecutive Australian titles in the Open era. Nine others have won back-to-back titles, none have completed the hat-trick since the Open era started in 1968.

"Hello everybody it's great to be back," Djokovic told the crowd. "I have great memories, especially the last two years."

Djokovic lost a match to Australia's Bernard Tomic in the exhibition mixed team Hopman Cup tournament earlier this month, but brushed that off as a way to combine "fun and some great matches" as preparation for the major.

Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams had nearly flawless opening matches in the women's draw earlier in the day.

Sharapova finished her first match of the year in 55 minutes, cruising to a 6-0, 6-0 win over Olga Puchkova to start proceedings on center court at the Australian Open without showing any signs of trouble with her sore right collarbone.

The No. 2-ranked Sharapova, who lost the final to Victoria Azarenka here last year before going on to win the French Open, faced only two break points in the match and she saved both of those in the first game.

Then she went on a 12-game roll that earned her a second "double bagel" inside a year.

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