MELBOURNE, Australia - Same Grand Slam, same court, same result. Only the year was different for Novak Djokovic - and the amount of time he needed on the bright blue hard surface at Rod Laver Arena.
The Australian Open defending champion took his first step toward winning his third consecutive title at Melbourne Park - and fourth overall - with a 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 win over Paul-Henri Mathieu of France on Monday.
The match lasted 1 hour, 42 minutes, more than four hours faster than when the Serbian star was last on center court, his victory in last year's final over Rafael Nadal in a 5-hour, 53-minute marathon.
Australian Open (Jan. 14-27)
Tennis.com: Players besides Serena and Djokovic who could win.
"It's great to be back in Australia playing on this court," Djokovic said.
On an opening day when Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams also easily won their first-round matches, Djokovic took his first step to becoming the first man to win three consecutive Australian Open titles in the Open era.
"Any achievement, especially if it's part of history, would mean a lot to me," Djokovic said. "I love this sport. This sport has been my life since I was 4 years old."
Djokovic lost a match to Australia's Bernard Tomic in the exhibition mixed-team Hopman Cup tournament this month, but said his win over Mathieu, who reached a career-high No. 12 ranking in 2008, was a good steppingstone for his second-round match against American Ryan Harrison, a 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 winner over Santiago Giraldo of Colombia.
Among the men, fourth-seeded David Ferrer defeated Olivier Rochus of Belgium 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych defeated Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3; and No. 10 Nicolas Almagro of Spain beat American qualifier Steve Johnson 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-2.
Eighth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia came back from two service breaks down in the second set and went on to beat local favorite Lleyton Hewitt 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-3. It was Hewitt's 17th consecutive Australian Open, a tournament where he's only advanced past the fourth round once - when he lost in the final to Marat Safin in 2005.
"To his credit, he raised his level and played some great points," Hewitt said of Tipsarevic. "He just played too well on the big points. He was going for everything at 3-0 (down), and it came off."
Also advancing were No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, No. 16 Kei Nishikori of Japan, No. 22 Fernando Verdasco of Spain, No. 26 Jurgen Melzer of Austria and No. 32 Julien Benneteau of France, who beat rising Bulgarian star Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
Second-seeded Roger Federer and No. 3 Andy Murray, the two main threats to Djokovic with Rafael Nadal not playing due to a virus, also play their first-round matches Tuesday.
Rafael Nadal is currently ranked fourth in the world, but has had a dominant run lately as he has won seven of the last eight French Open titles. Mary Carrillo thinks we’re in store for a Nadal-Djokovic final.
Scenes from Down Under
Check out the best images from the 2013 Australian Open.
The best of Wimbledon
The best images from the Grand Slam tournament at the All-England Club.
French Open 2012: Top 10 Shots
June 10, 2012: John McEnroe, Ted Robinson, and Mary Carillo look back at the Top Ten best moments from the 2012 French Open.