MELBOURNE: Kim Clijsters began the defense of her Australian Open title with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Portuguese qualifier Maria Joao Koehler on Monday, showing no signs of the hip problem which forced her to withdraw from a tuneup event.
Clijsters broke Koehler's serve at love in the final game of the opening set at the beginning of a 13-point winning run that also earned her an early break in the second.
It was her first match since withdrawing from the recent Brisbane International with spasms in the muscles in her left hip.
She said she'd dealt with the "emotions and stress" of the injury, claiming she was lucky even to get a few warmup matches in Brisbane.
Li Na, who lost the Australian final to Clijsters last year, opened earlier Monday with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan.
Li was a trailblazer for China last year, reaching a Grand Slam singles final for the first time before losing to Clijsters at Melbourne Park. At the next major, she won the French Open to become the first player from China to win a Grand Slam singles title.
"I hope I can go one better this year," Li said of her Australian Open campaign. She had a confidence-boosting buildup that included match wins at the Hopman Cup and Sydney.
"So I was happy what I'm doing ... Yeah, I think I just continue. This week was another story. So nothing about how I was doing in Perth, how I was doing in Sydney — This tournament is even bigger, more important."
Fifth-seeded Li could meet Clijsters much early than the final this time, with the pair drawn into the same tough quarter with No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki. Last year's finalists could meet in the fourth round. Wozniacki, still aiming for her first Grand Slam title, was due to play her first-round match Monday night.
Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka won 12 straight games to finish off Heather Watson 6-1, 6-0 in 67 minutes in the opening match on center court.
Azarenka, one of six women who can finish atop the rankings depending on results at Melbourne Park, is coming off a victory over Li in the Sydney International final last week.
"Well, the score is easy. To actually play the match, it's never easy, especially for me coming here only Saturday," she said of the win over Watson, adding she was unsettled because she had to get to Melbourne Park so early there was nowhere open to buy her morning coffee.
"First time I actually hit on center court was today in the morning," she said.
The Sydney champion has gone on to reach the Australian Open final six times since 1997, winning twice. Li Na won in Sydney last year but lost the Australian Open final to Clijsters two weeks later.
The local attention is on 19-year-old Bernard Tomic, who rallied from two sets down to beat No. 22-seeded Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. A five-set win over the 2009 semifinalist will no doubt give Tomic a confidence boost as he attempts to become the first Australian man since 1976 to win the national title.
"Today wasn't fun, it was torture," said Tomic, who reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year. "I don't know how I found the energy to lift, how I did it, but I thank the crowd."
Eighth-seeded Mardy Fish, the highest ranked of the U.S. men, had a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Gilles Muller to progress along with 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, No. 7 Tomas Berdych, No. 10 Nicolas Almagro, No. 18 Feliciano Lopez, No. 21 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland and No. 30 Kevin Anderson of South Africa.
Of the sixth women who can reach the top ranking, eighth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska has the biggest task, having to win the Australian title. She had a battle on her hands just to make the second round, fending off American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-2 in a three-hour match on Show Court 2. Mattek-Sands hit a stunning 81 winners but also had 65 unforced errors.
Radwanska remained composed after trading breaks early in the third set, winning five of the last six games.
Other women advancing included No. 16-seeded Peng Shuai of China, No. 20 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, No. 22 Julia Goerges, No. 26 Anabel Medina of Spain and Eleni Daniilidou of Greece beat 41-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan 6-3, 6-2.
After an unusually cool buildup to the tournament, some players were unsettled by the strong breeze and rising temperatures that hit 34 degrees Celsius (93 Fahrenheit) on Monday.