Serena opens defense with straight-set win

Serena Williams was pushed by Camila Giorgi in her first-ound match at the Australian Open, but Williams came away with a 6-4, 7-5 victory.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Serena Williams made a bright start to her Australian Open title defense, holding up one finger and twirling in her neon yellow two-piece outfit to mark victory No. 1 after advancing 6-4, 7-5 over Camila Giorgi on Monday.

Williams withdrew from a warmup tournament because of inflammation in her left knee, so the win over Giorgi was her first completed match since her bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam ended in a semifinal loss at the U.S. Open.

The 21-time major winner was troubled initially by the bright sun while serving from one end of Rod Laver Arena, but didn't show too many signs otherwise of discomfort as she beat the No. 34-ranked Giorgi in a challenging opener.

She dropped one service game in the match, while Giorgi struggled with 12 double-faults, including one on the decisive breakpoint in the 11th game of the second set.

Williams fired two aces and a service winner to finish it off.

"It wasn't very easy — she obviously plays really well ... (and) I haven't played a competitive match in a really long time, but I think it was really good for me to come out here," Williams said. "I was able to stay in it and stay calm today and I think that's what matters most."

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova earned the distinction of winning the first completed match at the tournament when she beat Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum earlier on Rod Laver Arena, avenging her upset three-set loss in the first round in 2014.

Kvitova, who had to withdraw from a warmup tournament in China because of a stomach virus, said her preparation was disrupted and she was nervous ahead of the rematch with Kumkhum.

"Now I can breathe a little bit normally," she said. "I got really nervous before the match. I didn't sleep well actually. The memories from two years ago were a little bit difficult."

No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro advanced in straight sets, while No. 17 Sara Errani was the first of the seeded women eliminated with a 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 loss to Margarita Gasparyan. No. 24 Sloane Stephens, who beat Serena Williams in the 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals, went out in a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Chinese qualifier Wang Qiang.

No. 7 Kei Nishikori was the first of the seeded men's players to advance, beating Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

The hours before the tournament began were overshadowed by reports alleging a number of players were suspected of being involved in match-fixing but had been allowed to continue playing.

The ATP, which runs the men's tour, and Nigel Willerton, head of the Tennis Integrity Unit, represented the four governing bodies of tennis — the ATP, the WTA, the Grand Slam Board and the International Tennis Federation — in a joint news conference to reject the allegations published by the BBC and BuzzFeed News.

The reports said secret files exposed evidence of widespread suspected match-fixing at the top level of world tennis. The report said that in the last decade 16 players — all at some stage ranked in the top 50 — have been repeatedly flagged to the integrity unit.

The reports say the players — it doesn't identify them — were allowed to continue competing.

ATP chairman Chris Kermode said tennis authorities "absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match-fixing has been suppressed for any reason, or isn't being investigated."

"We have stringent procedures and sanctions in place to deal with any suspected corruption and have shown we will act decisively when our integrity rules are broken," Kermode said. "No player or official is immune ... Investigations follow where evidence leads."

Tennis Integrity Unit investigations have resulted in 18 successful disciplinary cases, including five players and one official who have been banned from the sport for life.


The tournament began Monday. Here's some storylines to follow, compiled by the Associated Press:


The Australian Open this year features 15 active Grand Slam champions — seven men and eight women — and the bulk of the majors are held by the top three players on each side. Roger Federer's leading 17 is three ahead of Rafael Nadal, while Novak Djokovic has 10. Lleyton Hewitt, who will retire after this tournament, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray have two majors each, rounded out by Marin Cilic (2014 U.S. Open) with one for a total of 48 by the men. Nadal, Wawrinka, Murray and Hewitt play their opening matches Tuesday. The Williams sisters lead the women — Serena with 21 and Venus with seven — followed by Maria Sharapova's five, two each by Victoria Azarenka (both at the Australian Open), Svetlana Kuznetsova and Petra Kvitova and one each by Ana Ivanovic and Samantha Stosur. Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, has the honor Monday of playing the first tournament match on Rod Laver Arena, against Luksika Kumkhum, a 22-year-old qualifier from Thailand.


Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France plays Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in the last night match on Margaret Court Arena late Monday, and both players have bittersweet memories of past Australian Open glory. Both players have never won a major and have only made one Grand Slam final — at Melbourne Park. Tsonga lost in four sets to Djokovic in 2008, Baghdatis was beaten by Federer in the 2006 championship match. Both players captivated their respective tournaments — Baghdatis with his vocal crowd support from Melbourne's large Greek community, and Tsonga with his on-court spinning and sparring routines. It could be a knockout punch for Tsonga — he's won all five matches the pair have played in main-draw tournaments.


Before the sneezing and sniffling set in, the world's No. 2-ranked women's tennis player listed her goals for the year. Top priority: "Just to stay healthy," Simona Halep said without hesitating. Almost as an afterthought, the rising 24-year-old Romanian who was a finalist at the 2014 French Open added that her biggest goal was "to win a Grand Slam." Halep is hardly alone in her quest to stay off the injured list and win a major. Most of the top 10 ranked women's players started the year with injuries or illness that forced them to retire or withdraw from tournaments in the first weeks of the season: They include: No. 1 Williams (Hopman Cup/left knee), No. 2 Halep (Brisbane/left ankle), No. 3 Garbine Muguruza (Brisbane/left foot), No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska (Sydney/leg injury), No. 5 Sharapova (Brisbane/ left forearm), and No. 6 Kvitova (Sydney/stomach virus).

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