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Djokovic works crowd during opening win at Aussie Open


MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic had a big, adoring crowd at Rod Laver Arena, and he knew exactly how to work it.

Writing “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” on a live TV camera lens with a felt-tip pen was the perfect way to sign off after his 15th consecutive win at the Australian Open.

Having the confidence to charm a crowd of thousands comes with experience — he has won the last two Australian titles and is aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win three in succession.

“Hello, everybody, it’s great to be back,” he said after his 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 win over Paul-Henri Mathieu of France, his first match at Melbourne Park since his epic five-set win over Rafael Nadal in last year’s final. “I have great memories. ... Twelve months ago, played a six-hour final. Thanks for coming and supporting me.”

David Ferrer, who took the No. 4 seeding when fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal withdrew because of illness and injury, had only a couple of hundred people watching in cavernous Hisense Arena at Melbourne Park. He opened with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Olivier Rochus of Belgium. Ferrer knows that without his compatriot in the draw, there’s a semifinal spot up for grabs, but is content to stay under the radar.

“Of course, Novak, Roger and Rafael and Murray — they’ve won Grand Slams. It’s very difficult for (another) player to win the first Grand Slam of his career. For me, I am trying to do my best.”

The four majors in 2012 were shared by Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, the Scotsman who finally ended the 76-year drought for British men at the Grand Slam events by winning the U.S. Open. With Nadal out, the so called ’Big 4’ has become the ’Big 3,’ with nobody else in the top 10 given a realistic chance of winning.

Djokovic doesn’t have another Grand Slam winner in his half of the draw after his Serbian Davis Cup teammate Janko Tipsarevic ousted Australian veteran Lleyton Hewitt, a former U.S. Open and Wimbledon winner, in a night match.

“If you want my opinion, it’s that the top four, they are better,” Ferrer said. “The last years, they were in all the semifinals and finals.”

Federer, who has four Australian titles among his 17 majors, and Murray, who broke his Grand Slam drought by winning the U.S. Open, have their first-round matches Tuesday in what shapes as a blockbuster day session at Rod Laver Arena.

Murray is against Robin Haase in the first match and Federer is against Benoit Paire of France in the third — women’s champion Victoria Azarenka takes in Monica Niculescu of Romania in between.

Congestion on centre court means Serena Williams, the big favourite to win the women’s title, will play her first-round match at Hisense Arena against Romania’s Edina Gallovits-Hall, who is ranked No. 110. Williams had a good look at the setting Monday, sitting in the stands with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou to watch older sister Venus win her opening match.

Serena, who is ranked No. 3 and has won 35 of her last 36 matches including titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open, had left long before Ferrer was to play the third match at Hisense. The 30-year-old Spaniard drew polite applause rather than raucous cheering from the small crowd in a match punctuated by long periods of silence.

 
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