The 2014 Australian Open is off to a blistering start, and it's not all because of the merciless heat wave that torments the tournament. It's been so hot in the early stages of this event that Caroline Wozniacki's water bottle began to become one with the court:
Caroline Wozniacki on the Melbourne heat: "I put a bottle down on the court and the plastic started melting a little bit" #AustralianOpen— tennishead (@tennishead) January 14, 2014
Who has the best shot at winning the 2014 Australian Open?
Perhaps Wozniacki's ill-fated water bottle was not just suffering from the heat produced by the sun, but also by that which was radiating from the play of its owner. The 10th-seeded Wozniacki waltzed to a 6-0, 6-2 win over Lourdes Dominguez Lino in Round 1, and it was a performance good enough to have the former No. 1 player crack the list below of the most impressive early results.
Roger Federer (6) def. James Duckworth
The heat shouldn't be as big of an obstacle to the 21-year-old James Duckworth. He is Australian, after all.
What was far more daunting for Duckworth was Roger Federer's service game. The Swiss legend won 89 percent of his first-serve points in the match and 76 percent of total service points.
On top of that, Federer was on point with his groundstrokes and was playing smart and patient tennis. He committed just 17 unforced errors in a match that lasted less than two hours.
And he did all this while setting a record:
Roger Federer: 57th straight Grand Slam event played (sets Open Era record)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 14, 2014
The 32-year-old may not have the same quickness he displayed in his younger years, but his hands remain lethal. If he continues to serve as he did in the first round, while also avoiding unforced errors, the No. 6 seed will be a factor in the late rounds.
Andy Murray (4) def. Go Soeda
A 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 victory over world No. 112 Go Soeda in the first round is a solid start for Andy Murray, but not one that would be typically noteworthy for the Brit. A player of his immense and rare talent is supposed to dominate those kinds of matches.
Still, this is not the typical start to the year for Murray:
Andy Murray was "very happy" with his performance in only his 3rd competitive match since returning from back surgery http://t.co/0INBICUuzb— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) January 14, 2014
This is just his second event after a four-month layoff following back surgery. Here is a post-match quote from Murray, provided by the Telegraph's Vicki Hodges:
When you haven't played for a while it makes you feel extra nervous before you come out on court. But it [his back] felt good today and hopefully I'll wake up tomorrow and won't feel any aftereffects. I was training in 30 C [86 F] in Miami for five weeks but you can't prepare for the heat and conditions like this.
Murray's back didn't just feel "good." As he went onto say, his body was feeling better than it had in a long time:
Despite all of this, Murray had to be a little anxious that he was not only playing in such intense heat, but it was also his first best-of-five match since returning to the court.
Murray's dominance meant the encounter lasted just three sets and less than 1.5 hours.
Still, in Murray's only other event this year, he was ousted in the second round, 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, by Florian Mayer. As you can see in the score, the 26-year-old Scot saw his results fade as the match progressed. So his strong performance through three sets is a step in the right direction.
Murray should continue to get his tournament legs back as the action progresses. Given his strong start, this is bad news for his competitors.
Caroline Wozniacki (10) def. Lourdes Dominguez Lino
Coming off a down year and increasingly diminishing returns, Wozniacki got her 2014 Grand Slam season off to a great start.
The quick dispatching of Lino was exactly what Wozniacki needed to start this tournament. It took her just more than an hour to get off the court, as she used surgeon-like accuracy to control the match.
That wasn't quick enough to keep her water bottle from melting, but it should be quick enough for the following recovery process to be less daunting than it is for others:
Nice to be thru to the second round, winning 6-0 6-2. Pretty hot out there, 42 degrees Celsius.. Now time for an ice bath and recovery!:)— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) January 14, 2014
This is a big year for the 23-year-old. If she's going to win that elusive major, the former No. 1 has to at least return to advancing into the final four of Grand Slam events.
Perhaps she will benefit from stability this year as her fresh fiance, golfer Rory McIlroy, feels he will:
Rory McIlroy: 'There was a lot of instability last year - 2014 will be better' http://t.co/WFfh1Wtjp1— CaroWozniackiNews (@CWTennis) January 14, 2014
This is a grand chance for Wozniacki to make a statement about her form for the upcoming season, and given the way she looked in the opener, that is an opportunity she is ready to seize.