Djokovic closer to historic third Australian Open title in a row

Novak Djokovic could not hide his satisfaction after completing the first step on the road to a place in history at the Australian Open.

Bidding to become the first man in the Open era to win three successive titles in Melbourne, Djokovic hit the ground running today to brush aside the potentially tricky Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu.

On his first appearance on Rod Laver Arena since his epic five-set triumph over Rafael Nadal 12 months ago, the world number one had a more straightforward afternoon, winning 6-2 6-4 7-5.

The first two sets were routine and although Mathieu upped his level as the match went on, Djokovic secured a break late in the third to move through to a meeting with American Ryan Harrison.

"It was a good performance for a first round," Djokovic said.

"I felt I was in control of the match in the opening two sets. Then, you know, he started playing better, striking the ball quite well from both sides on the baseline. I thought he was serving really precisely and really well.

"It was tough to break. But in the end, that 11th game, I made some good shots, good points and managed to go through in straight sets."

With title challengers Roger Federer and Andy Murray not playing until tomorrow, Djokovic took the opportunity to send a message that he was not willing to give up his crown without a fight.

But although largely satisfied, he admitted there was still room for improvement.

"There are some adjustments that I need to make and get a little bit sharper on the court," he said.

"But it's expected in the first match that you're still not 100% on the court. You're trying to be, but it's going to get better with matches that I play."

On a day largely free of upsets, fourth seed David Ferrer and fifth seed Tomas Berdych also advanced with ease.

Ferrer proved too strong for diminutive Belgian Olivier Rochus, winning 6-3 6-4 6-2 inside two hours, and Berdych had little trouble in dispatching American Michael Russell 6-3 7-5 6-3.

Berdych said: "I was able to find my rhythm and did not have to stay on the court that long which is a positive."

With so much focus directed the way of Djokovic, Federer and Murray, Berdych is drifting under the radar. And it is a situation he is quite happy with.

"It's better for me," he added. "Let's leave all the pressure on them. You get so much pressure on the court, you don't need it (off it) as well."

Several other seeds also progressed on day one at Melbourne Park with varying degrees of difficulty.

Nicolas Almagro required five sets to see off American qualifier Steve Johnson, as did Fernando Verdasco, who hit back from two sets to one and a break down to beat David Goffin.

There were also wins for Japanese star Kei Nishikori, Stanislas Wawrinka and Mikhail Youzhny.

But 11th seed Juan Monaco could not join them in round two after going down in straight sets to Russia's Andrey Kuznetsov.

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