nadal whips rochus

NEW LOOK: Spain's Rafael Nadal returns to Belgium's Christophe Rochus in the men's singles match during the Australian Open in Melbourne Australia yesterday. 20/01/2009. © AP Photo. Pic. Rick Stevens.
NEW LOOK: Spain's Rafael Nadal returns to Belgium's Christophe Rochus in the men's singles match during the Australian Open in Melbourne Australia yesterday. 20/01/2009. © AP Photo. Pic. Rick Stevens.

MELBOURNE - Spanish world number one Rafael Nadal began his Australian Open in awesome fashion yesterday, while Andy Murray enjoyed the easiest of starts to his quest for a first grand slam title.

MELBOURNE - Spanish world number one Rafael Nadal began his Australian Open in awesome fashion yesterday, while Andy Murray enjoyed the easiest of starts to his quest for a first grand slam title.

Last year's runner-up, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, led a parade of seeds into round two but Australian hopes took a hit when Lleyton Hewitt crashed out in his worst result since 2002.

The new-look Nadal, who replaced his usual vest and baggy pants with T-shirt and Bermuda shorts, destroyed Belgium's Christophe Rochus in the mismatch of round one.

Rochus was unable to get on the scoreboard until the ninth game as Nadal dismissed any concerns about his ongoing knee problems to win 6-0 6-2 6-2 in one hour and 17 minutes.

Nadal is starting his first season ranked number one as he bids to add a maiden Australian Open title to his Wimbledon and French Open crowns.

"I'm just trying to improve and be humble because every match is different," he said. "I'm very happy because I'm over the injury and at one of the greatest tournaments in the world."

Earlier Murray was handed his first-round win when Romania's Andrei Pavel retired with a long-standing back injury and later quit tennis.

"Obviously you don't want to finish a match like that. Andrei's been having problems with his back for a year," said the world number four, who is seeking Britain's first grand slam win in 73 years.

"It's unfortunate he had to stop but I felt like I was hitting the ball well."

American James Blake overcame dogged resistance from Canadian qualifier Frank Dancevic, as Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet completed a good day for France.

"You can't get a much more exciting three-setter," Blake said. "It was a little too exciting but he played some great tennis."

Hewitt's comeback from injury stalled but he produced some typically battling tennis in a five-set defeat to Fernando Gonzalez. The former number one refused to contemplate retirement and insisted he was on track for a return to the top 10.

"He's a tough player to play against for anyone, even the best guys like Roger [Federer], Rafa [Nadal], purely because he wants to play on his terms," Hewitt said.

French livewire Tsonga electrified Melbourne Park with his run to last year's final and he was again impressive, winning 6-4 6-4 6-0 against Juan Monaco, shrugging off a back injury.

"I try to play my best every time - I just try to be as good as I can be," he said.

Radek Stepanek, Ivo Karlovic, Igor Andreev and Nicolas Almagro were the other seeds through with Jurgen Melzer, who killed off Japanese prodigy Kei Nishikori.

"No, I didn't have any pressure because he's good and he's seeded. I just didn't play well today," Nishikori said.

In the other half of the draw, three-time winner Federer plays Russian Evgeny Korolev while defending champion Novak Djokovic faces Jeremy Chardy of France. - Sapa-AFP

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