(photo credit: REUTERS)
Dudi Sela claimed his first Grand Slam win in a year in impressive fashion on Monday, coming back from a set down to defeat world No. 38 Marcel Granollers of Spain 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 in the first round of the Australian Open.
The 31-year-old Israeli, who climbed 20 places to No. 67 in the world at the start of the week, has a golden opportunity to reach the third round in Melbourne for a third straight year, facing Lukas Lacko (121) of Slovakia in the second round.
Lacko knocked out No. 26 Albert Ramos-Vinolas with a 4-6, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 win on Monday.
Sela and Lacko will be playing each other for the seventh time, with the Slovakian’s only win coming in Memphis in 2011.
Sela, who has won just one Grand Slam match outside of Melbourne in the past two years, will pick up plenty of confidence from his two hour and 34-minute victory over Granollers, building on his excellent form to start the season.
The Israeli No. 1 lifted his 21st career title on the Challenger circuit on Saturday, beating No. 1 seed Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final in Canberra. That triumph came on the back of reaching his first ATP Tour semifinal since 2014 in Chennai, India, the previous week.
In other action, Roger Federer made a winning return to competitive tennis after six months out of the game on Monday, thrilling a packed Rod Laver Arena as he beat qualifier Juergen Melzer 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to reach the second round.
The Swiss had to battle hard throughout the match against his fellow 35-yearold and only pulled clear of his dogged opponent when the Austrian tired in the final set.
Even Federer could be forgiven a little rustiness after his prolonged absence due to a knee injury and he made 36 unforced errors in his two hours and six minutes on court.
There were, though, plenty of reminders of the brilliant shot-making that have helped Federer to 17 Grand Slam titles and his 46 to 26 advantage over Melzer in the winner count told the tale of what was ultimately a comfortable win.
The crowd cheered every one to the rafters and, while that pleased Federer, he was clearly just delighted to be back doing what he does best.
“I definitely see things a bit different when you’ve been gone for a long time or when you’ve come back from injury,” he told reporters.
“It was great to be out there. I really enjoyed myself, even though it wasn’t so simple."
Seeded 17th, Federer has much tougher battles ahead as he continues his bid for a fifth Melbourne Park title.
Next up in the second round on Wednesday, however, is another qualifier in Jewish-American Noah Rubin.
Elsewhere, Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka survived a scare from Slovakia’s Martin Klizan, fighting back from a break down in the final set to advance with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory. Also, men’s top seed Andy Murray beat Ukrainian Illya Marchenko 7-5, 7-6, 6-2, while in the women’s draw fourth seed Simona Halep lost 6-3, 6-1 to Shelby Rogers, whose 36-year-old American compatriot Venus Williams advanced straight sets. Reuters contributed to this report.
On TV: Australian Open early-round action (live on Eurosport all day from 2 a.m. Tuesday night/Wednesday morning)