Defending champions Federer and Mauresmo advance

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Roger Federer made it look difficult for a change, starting his bid for a 10th Grand Slam championship and successful Australian Open title defense by dropping serve three times in the first set.

But the top-ranked Federer rebounded quickly after Bjorn Phau took a 5-3 lead, winning the next nine games – conceding only six points in the second set.

The Swiss star went on to win 7-5, 6-0, 6-4, easily dispatching the 27-year-old German who beat him seven years ago in their only previous match.

“I got broken in the first set three times, and that makes you a little bit nervous,” said Federer, who went 92-5 with 12 titles last season and has held the top ranking since February 2004. “You try to stay cool, but I got a little bit nervous.”

Otherwise, he said, “It felt great to be back.”

Federer changed his preparation schedule this year, skipping his usual regular-season opener and playing three matches in an exhibition tournament at Kooyong, where he lost the final Saturday to Andy Roddick.

Federer said it would take a little time to get his best rhythm back, and was happy to even the score with Phau, who beat him in 1999 at Washington.

Earlier, Roddick overcame a shaky start against French wild-card Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, wasting four set points in the opening tiebreaker and rallying from 2-5 in the second set to win 6-7 (18), 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-3.

The 2003 U.S. Open champion was constantly critical of chair umpire Carlos Ramos, calling the Portuguese official a “glorified scorekeeper” after a call that gave Tsonga a set point at 11-10 in the first tiebreaker. Roddick thought one of Tsonga’s balls was 3 inches over the baseline.

Video replays are in use on Rod Laver Arena, the center court at Melbourne Park, for the first time at the Australian Open, but not on any other courts. The sixth-seeded Roddick was playing on the second showcourt, so he could not ask for a replay.

“I think I got a little first-round jitters,” Roddick said. “I played better as the match went on. I hope I can get better in the second round.”

The American star said at times he was scared in the first set against the 21-year-old Tsonga, who was playing only his sixth match in a top level ATP event.

“Absolutely, to say the least. I was wondering if we were ever going to finish the tiebreaker.”

Women’s champion Amelie Mauresmo was first up on Rod Laver Arena and started her title defense with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Shenay Perry.

Apart from dropping serve in the third game and again when serving for the match at 5-2, the second-seeded Mauresmo was in control as she returned to the scene of her biggest breakthrough victory.

Mauresmo beat Justine Henin-Hardenne in the final last year to claim her first Grand Slam title, seven years after losing in her only other trip to the final of a major. Mauresmo also won the Wimbledon title last summer and spent most of the season at No. 1. Mauresmo said she felt under no extra pressure as defending champion.

“It was good. I felt pretty happy to go on the court and to play first and to be able to, right from the first day, go on court and defend a title,” Mauresmo said.

Perry, a 22-year-old American who finished 2006 at No. 43 in the rankings, let Mauresmo off the hook with 21 unforced errors. Serving for the match a second time, Mauresmo held at love, closing with a powerful forehand cross.

Seventh-seeded Elena Dementieva of Russia advanced with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Stephanie Foretz of France. Also advancing were No. 16 Shahar Peer, No. 20 Tatiana Golovin and No. 26 Maria Kirilenko.

On the men’s side, Mario Ancic and Richard Gasquet were among the other men’s seeded players advancing.

No. 18 Gasquet, the 2002 world junior champion, won his first match in four trips to the Australian Open, advancing 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 over Italian Filippo Volandri. Ninth-seeded Ancic beat Japan’s Go Soeda 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

American Amer Delic beat Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-0, 6-2, making the second round for the third time in four trips to the majors.

Spaniards Juan Carlos Ferrero and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez progressed to the second round after playing five games between them.

Former top-ranked Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion, was leading Jan Hajek 3-0 when the Czech player retired because of stomach illness.

Garcia-Lopez was 1-1 with Joachim Johansson when the 6-foot-6 Swede pulled out because of severe blisters on his feet. Johansson has struggled with shoulder and elbow problems and hadn’t played at a major since Wimbledon in 2005.

Federer is on the cusp of breaking Jimmy Connors’ record of 160 consecutive weeks atop the men’s rankings, regardless of what he does in the tournament.

Rafael Nadal, who has spent a record 78 weeks at No. 2, opens Tuesday against Robert Kendrick.

AP-ES-01-14-07 2318EST

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