Tennis: Fourth seed Jannik Sinner safely through Australian Open first round against Dutchman Botic van de Zanschulp

Jannik Sinner has picked up where he left off in 2023, easing past Botic van de Zandschulp into the second round of the Australian Open, as the year's first Grand Slam got underway a day earlier than usual on Sunday.

The clean-hitting Italian fourth seed - the hottest player on the men's tour at the back end of last season, with victories over Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev - was quickly back in his groove on Rod Laver Arena.

Although far from perfect, he broke his Dutch opponent to open the contest and grabbed another break to serve for the second set, before securing his place in the second round, 6-4 7-5 6-3, after two-and-a-half hours on court.

Jannick Sinner in action at the Australian Open.
Jannick Sinner in action at the Australian Open. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It's my first match of the season and it means a lot to get a win," said Sinner, who was cheered on by the 'Carota Boys', a band of fans dressed as carrots.

"It's a tournament where I would like to play as good as possible. Hopefully, I can show more as I go along.

"The first match is never easy, I think I can be happy."

Sinner is one of a band of young guns looking to dethrone 24-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic, who gets his bid for an 11th title underway against Croatian qualifier Dino Prizmic in the evening session.

Reigning women's champion Aryna Sabalenka will follow Djokovic on the main showcourt for her first-round contest against German qualifier Ella Seidel.

The addition of an extra day to the tournament to help clear the first round matches left the early schedule a little light on star power.

Czech Barbora Krejcikova was the only former women's Grand Slam winner playing in the day session and the ninth seed was soon in trouble against Japanese wildcard Mai Hontama on Margaret Court Arena.

Playing her first main draw match at Melbourne Park, Hontama took the first set, and former French Open champion Krejcikova needed plenty of sideline coaching and a medical timeout for a foot injury, before progressing 2-6 6-4 6-3.

"It was a really difficult match," said Krejcikova, who emitted a huge roar after converting match point. "She was playing really well and it was tough, but I always believed that I could get back into it." 

Leylah Fernandez still has a little stardust remaining from her fairytale run to the final of the 2021 US Open and the Canadian also made a hot start by breaking her opponent to love in the first game on John Cain Arena.

Czech qualifier Sara Bejlek fought her way back into the contest and 32nd seed Fernandez had to dig deep to run out a 7-6(5) 6-2 winner.

Matteo Arnaldi made it a good day for Italian 22-year-olds, with a 7-6(5) 6-2 6-4 win over Australian wildcard Adam Walton, but compatriot Lucia Bronzetti lost 3-6 7-5 6-3 to experienced Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko.

As usual, big crowds flocked to the Melbourne Park precinct for the year's first Grand Slam.

"The atmosphere is just unbelievable," local fan Wendy Ferguson told Reuters.

"How friendly everybody is. It doesn't matter where they come from, everyone is here for a good time."