Defending champion Rafael Nadal shrugged off a rocky build-up to reach the Australian Open second round with a four-set win over ailing Jack Draper.
Top women’s seed Iga Swiatek also made heavy work of her opening match against a rising young talent before the Pole found her rhythm to beat German Jule Niemeier 6-4 7-5.
Spaniard Nadal came into Melbourne Park with only one victory since the US Open and was on the back foot against Draper on a warm and humid afternoon at Rod Laver Arena before cramping trouble struck the 21-year-old Briton.
With Draper reduced to a groaning wreck, Nadal finished strongly to close out the match 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-1.
Nadal’s win will have been a relief for organisers, with one of the biggest draw cards in Nick Kyrgios bowing out because of a knee problem on the eve of his opener.
However, US fans were encouraged after seeing Jessica Pegula, seeded third behind Swiatek and Ons Jabeur, needing less than an hour to beat Jaqueline Cristian 6-0 6-1.
Seventh seed Coco Gauff also raced into the second round, while last year’s finalist and fellow American Danielle Collins needed three sets to defeat Anna Kalinskaya.
Pegula, who helped the United States win the inaugural United Cup, overpowered her Romanian opponent, and there were cheers from the Margaret Court Arena crowd when Cristian held serve in the second set to avoid the dreaded ‘double bagel’.
“Definitely first matches are always tough, especially at a slam, there’s so much hype and anxious nerves leading up. So I’m glad it went smooth,” said Pegula.
With Williams and Barty retired, and twice champion Naomi Osaka pregnant with her first child, Melbourne Park will almost certainly crown a first-time women’s champion this year.
Victoria Azarenka is now the only former champion left in the women’s draw after beating 2020 winner Sofia Kenin 6-4 7-6(3).
There were convincing early victories for two former US Open champions.
Canadian Bianca Andreescu, the 2020 champion at Flushing Meadows, beat Marie Bouzkova 6-2 6-4, while 2021 winner Emma Raducanu made light work of Tamara Korpatsch in a 6-3 6-2 victory.
Raducanu next faces teenager Gauff, who won in Auckland and confirmed her good form with a 6-1 6-4 win over Katerina Siniakova.
In the evening, Daniil Medvedev swatted aside Marcos Giron 6-0 6-1 6-2, while Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas downed Quentin Halys 6-3 6-4 7-6(6) and Felix Auger-Aliassime overcame fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil in four sets.
China celebrated a small triumph for its men’s game when 17-year-old Shang Juncheng, the youngest player in the men’s draw, beat German Oscar Otte.
That made him the first man from his nation to win a main draw singles match at the tournament in the professional era.
“It’s huge for Chinese men’s tennis. We’ve had really good players from the women’s side, but not really big names in the men’s,” he said.