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Defending champion Federer eases into second round

MELBOURNE, Australia — Roger Federer started his Australian Open title defense with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Lukas Lacko today, showing some of the sublime shot-making skills that make him the most obvious hurdle to Rafael Nadal's pursuit of a "Rafa Slam."

Trying to become only the second man to win five Australian titles, Federer barely waited for the ballboys to get back into place between points.

Since Federer won at Melbourne Park last year for his record 16th major title, Nadal has won the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and is aiming to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major titles. If the rankings hold true, Federer and Nadal will meet in the final.

The second-ranked Federer is clearly intent on regaining the top spot.

"One and two are both very good. One is better than two, but they still put me on Rod Laver Arena, so I'm not complaining at all," Federer said. "And, look, I'm really enjoying myself playing really well at the moment. Very happy how things are going."

Federer worked his Slovak rival around the court with angled forehands and relentless accuracy. The 23-year-old Lacko had no answers, except when he challenged some line calls.

Lacko twice challenged calls on the baseline in one game on Federer forehands that looked like winners — he had both turned over to earn a break against Federer's serve in the second set and make it 3-1. It only seemed to spur Federer on as he raced through the first round in 84 minutes.

No. 8 Andy Roddick rushed through as well, firing 17 aces as he beat Jan Hajek 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.

Caroline Wozniacki started her first major as the No. 1-ranked woman with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Argentina's Gisela Dulko. It was 20-year-old Wozniacki's first victory of the year, following a straight-sets loss to Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova last week in the Sydney International and exhibition losses to No. 2 Vera Zvonareva and Kim Clijsters in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Dulko, the top-ranked doubles player, tested Wozniacki in the second set and pulled level at 4-4 with a service break, but the Danish player broke back immediately and served it out on her second match point after a double-fault on her first.

Wozniacki won six tournaments in 2010, including four of her last six, and can retain the top spot by reaching the semifinals.

"Definitely. I'm feeling good. I'm feeling like I'm in a good shape," Wozniacki said. "Gisela is a tough opponent, especially in the first round."

Maria Sharapova won for the first time at Melbourne Park since taking the 2008 title, beating Thai veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-1, 6-3 in the opening match on Rod Laver Arena.

Sharapova, who missed the 2009 tournament because of a shoulder injury and was ousted in the first round last year by fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko, struggled with her serve and was inconsistent in the second set. After losing the opening service game at love, Sharapova won seven straight games to take a 6-1, 1-0 lead.

The 33-year-old Tamarine rallied and had a game point on serve for a 4-1 lead, but 14th-seeded Sharapova broke back and regained momentum, winning the last five games.

Even when she was winning, though, Sharapova had trouble finding range with her serve. She had 10 double-faults and five aces.

"I was definitely a little bit nervous in the beginning. Last year, I played first match on center and, you know, I lost," Sharapova said. "So kind of was like, 'I don't want this to happen again this year.'

"The first game definitely wasn't great, and didn't serve good at all during the match. I started playing better as the match went on and, yeah, I can only improve."

French Open champion Francesca Schiavone had a couple of stutters, missing a chance to serve for the match before breaking Arantxa Parra Santonja to win 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4.

In other women's matches, No. 20 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia beat Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 and No. 29 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia advanced 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-4 over Germany's Angelique Kerber.

No. 18 Sam Querrey was the first of the men's seeded players eliminated, losing 5-7, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6 to Poland's Lukasz Kubot, while No. 12 Gael Monfils and No. 16 Mardy Fish rallied from two sets down.

Former world junior champion Thiemo De Bakker served for the match at 5-3 in the third against Monfils but got tight and made a series of unforced errors on key points, eventually losing 6-7 (5), 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-1.

"I know Thiemo a bit. I know sometime he snap in the head," Monfils said. "It's a weakness for him. So you play with that."

Fish seriously cut down his unforced errors in the third set and continued that through, getting the decisive break in the seventh game of the fifth set and then converting his fourth match point for a 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Romania's Victor Hanescu.