Agassi, Federer, Serena advance

Associated Press

Melbourne, January 17:

No rust, just a finely tuned machine. Top-ranked Roger Federer quickly dispelled any thoughts that the new year might bring a letdown by the man who dominated men’s tennis last year, blasting 54 winners to win his first-round match at the Australian Open over France’s Fabrice Santoro 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.

Marat Safin was just as impressive in dismantling 17-year-old qualifier Novak Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 6-1. Andre Agassi, always considered a threat despite his No 8 seeding, worked his way through stiffness from a hip injury that had raised questions whether he would even be able to begin pursuit of his fifth title at the season-opening Grand Slam.

He started slow before loosening up the hip and tightening up his game to beat German qualifier Dieter Kindlmann 6-4, 6-3, 6-0.

But it didn’t take long for the upset bug to bite as No 5 Carlos Moya lost to fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Garcia-Lopez broke the former French Open champion’s service in the eighth game of the fourth set and served out at love in the next, making the most of a booming forehand and 43 winners.

Two Russians — fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova, the reigning Wimbledon and WTA Championships titlist, and US Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded fifth — advanced with straight-set victories, as did second-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France and former No 1 Serena Williams, who had 27 winners to overcome 22 unforced errors in an erratic but easy victory that saw the fashion designer lose a shoe. But No 16 Ai Sugiyama of Japan and No 24 Mary Pierce, the 1995 winner here, were among four seeded women to lose on the first day.

Santoro’s mix of spins and slices gives some players trouble, but he just didn’t have enough power — sometimes serving under 125 km/h — to provide much more than a good warmup for Federer.

The Swiss lost only the French Open among the majors last year, when he won 11 tournaments overall and proved that he’s always the player to beat. He started this season with another title in Qatar and beat second-ranked Andy Roddick in the final of an exhibition tournament on the weekend.

Federer won all 12 points in the first three games against Santoro and lost just three points as he raced to a 5-0 lead. He extended his winning streak to 22 matches.

Agassi could face Federer in the quarter-finals, but didn’t seem dismayed by the prospect, since it means he’d have three more victories — and almost certainly would be completely recovered from a hip tendon injury that forced him to retire during an exhibition match last week against Roddick.

Looking leaner and fitter than last year despite the injury, Agassi broke Kindlmann, ranked only 173rd, three times in 17 chances in the first two sets, but converted all three break-point opportunities in the third to wrap up the last set in 19 minutes. He next faces German Rainer Schuettler, who he beat in the final two years ago but has since slipped to 40th.

Sania Mirza beat Australia’s Cindy Watson 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 to become only the second Indian woman ever to win a main draw match in a Grand Slam.

RESULTS: Men’s: Roger Federer beat Fabrice Santoro 6-1, 6-1, 6-2; Bjorn Phau beat Albert Costa 6-3, 7-6, 6-3; Tommy Robredo beat Scott Draper 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2; Gaston Gaudio beat Justin Gimelstob 7-6, 6-4, 6-3; Andre Agassi beat Dieter Kindlmann 6-4, 6-3, 6-0; Taylor Dent beat Florent Serra 7-5, 6-2, 6-4; Guillermo Garcia-Lopez beat Carlos Moya 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; Paradorn Srichaphan beat Potito Starace 1-6, 6-2, 7-5, 6-4; Rainer Schuettler beat Olivier Patience 7-6, 6-3, 6-2; Michal Tabara beat Thomas Enqvist 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. Women’s: Serena Williams beat Camille Pin 6-1, 6-1; Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Jessica Kirkland 6-1, 6-1; Sania Mirza beat Cindy Watson 3-6, 6-3, 6-0; Martina Sucha beat Ai Sugiyama 7-5, 6-4; Silvia Farina Elia beat Julia Schruff 6-3, 6-4; Stephanie Cohen-Aloro beat Mary Pierce 6-2, 6-2; Vera Zvonareva beat Liu Nannan 6-4, 6-2; Nadia Petrova beat Virginie Razzano 6-1, 6-2; Maria Sharapova beat Sesil Karatantcheva 6-3, 6-1.