MELBOURNE- China’s Li Na beat the heat with a quickfire Australian Open victory Monday as the stage was set for Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams to begin their bids for Grand Slam history.
On a day of rising temperatures at Melbourne Park, Li crushed last year’s girls’ champion Ana Konjuh, 16, 6-2, 6-0 to become the first leading contender through.
And with the mercury climbing to 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and forecast to shoot past 40 Celsius on Tuesday, Li was glad to rip through the opener in just 61 minutes.
“I think it was very lucky we played today. Tomorrow will be the worse,” said Li, adding that she moved her Tuesday practice to an earlier slot. “I didn’t want to kill myself on the court,” she said.
The ice packs were already out on day one with the Netherlands’ Kiki Bertens needing attention and having her blood pressure measured during her defeat to former world number one Ana Ivanovic.
Top 10 men’s players Stanislas Wawrinka, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych also went through with Djokovic, the defending champion, set to headline the evening session.
Djokovic is bidding to become the first player in the Open era to win the title four times in a row, while Williams can equal Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova’s haul of 18 majors.
In-form Wawrinka had it easy when Andrey Golubev retired when a set down, while Ferrer and Berdych won in straights against Alejandro Gonzalez and Aleksandr Nedovyesov respectively.
Venus Williams became the first major casualty when she threw away a one-set lead against Russian 22nd seed Ekaterina Makarova to slump to her worst Australian Open result since 2006.
“The last 12 months I have had issues, but this year I definitely am looking forward to having a good run and feeling well,” said the former world number one, who suffers from energy-sapping Sjogren’s Syndrome.
Richard Gasquet shrugged off a rib problem which kept him out of last week’s Kooyong Classic final to beat fellow Frenchman David Guez in straight sets.
And Britain’s Heather Watson and Laura Robson both fell at the first hurdle, leaving Wimbledon champion Andy Murray as the country’s lone singles representative.
Officials had words of reassurance for the players ahead of Tuesday’s expected high temperatures, saying nobody had ever died from extreme heat at a tennis tournament.
“We have had players almost die from drinking too much. So the danger is overdrinking, not underdrinking and becoming dehydrated,” said the tournament’s chief medical officer, Tim Wood.
“Given the length of time tennis matches generally go for and the sweat rate of most normal, healthy athletes, they won’t get to a state where they get too critically dehydrated.”
The tournament has a well-earned reputation for extreme heat. In 2009, Djokovic became a high-profile casualty when he pulled out of his title defence in the quarter-finals, complaining of heat exhaustion.
In Monday’s cooler evening temperatures, Djokovic will play Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko on centre court before Serena Williams opens her bid for a sixth Australian Open title against home hope Ashleigh Barty.