Djokovic suffers surprise setback

 

TENNIS:NOVAK DJOKOVIC'S preparations for the defence of his Australian Open title suffered an unexpected setback yesterday when he was knocked out of the Brisbane International in the first round.

The 21-year-old world number three lost his debut match at the brand new Pat Rafter Arena to former training partner Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 6-4 6-4.

Facing the prospect of arriving in Melbourne with only one competitive match under his belt this season before the start of the Open on January 19th, Djokovic asked for and was granted a wildcard entry into next week's Sydney International.

"It's not the end of the world. It's the first match, so I'm not going to be pessimistic.

"I have a lot of time now to prepare for the Aussie Open," said Djokovic.

His hasty exit was a big disappointment for organisers of the tournament. Djokovic was the main drawcard and followed Marcos Baghdatis, Daniela Hantuchova, Francesca Schiavone and Ai Sugiyama, who all lost on Monday.

There were fewer casualties amongst the seeds yesterday. Last year's Australian Open runner-up and second seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, beat Argentine Agustin Calleri 6-2 7-5 to emerge as the new favourite to win in Brisbane.

Men's fifth seed Tomas Berdych cruised past Australia's Brydan Klein 6-0 6-4.

Women's second seed Victoria Azarenka survived a torrid workout from Slovakia's Jarmila Gajdosova before winning 7-6 7-5, while third seed Marion Bartoli of France defeated Hungary's Melinda Czink 5-7 6-3 6-1.

Bulgarian Sesil Karatantcheva made a successful start to her first tournament in Australia since 2005 by beating Czech Iveta Benesova 1-6 6-4 6-2.

The 19-year-old returned to professional tennis 12 months ago after serving a two-year doping ban and said she felt like she was starting all over again.