Venus, Kvitova among early casualties in Melbourne

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Venus Williams suffered a disappointing loss at the Australian Open but last year’s runner up Li Na cruised through to the second round.

Williams blew a 3-0 lead in the deciding set to crash out 2-6 6-4 6-4 at the hands of Russian Ekaterina Makarova.

Li started the Australian Open like a woman on a mission by brutally dispatching Croatian teenager Ana Konjuh 6-2 6-0 in just over an hour.

Former French Open champion Li, twice a losing finalist at Melbourne Park, simply bludgeoned her young opponent into submission with her fierce groundstrokes to lay down a marker for the other leading contenders for the women’s title.

The fourth seed has become a big crowd favourite in Melbourne Park after her two runs to the final and was again well supported on Hisense Arena as she rode Konjuh’s early challenge before racing away with the second set.

“This is my favourite grand slam, I always love playing in Melbourne,” a smiling Li said before leaving court.

The 31-year-old next faces another promising young talent in the second round after 16-year-old qualifier Belinda Bencic beat 43-year-old Japanese Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-4 4-6 6-3 in a battle of the generations.

Makarova upset an injured Serena Williams in the fourth round of the 2012 tournament and completed a family double when 33-year-old Venus’s serve fell apart in the third set on Margaret Court Arena.

“I think she played really well, and I think just my level was a little bit too up and down,” said Venus.

Thai world number 88 Luksika Kumkhum sprang the biggest upset of the Australian Open’s first day by bundling out sixth seed Petra Kvitova 6-2 1-6 6-4 in front of a frenetic crowd on Monday.

Serving at 4-3 in the third set to stay in the match, former Wimbledon champion Kvitova double-faulted to give her plucky opponent a chance to seal the match on serve but the Thai wavered to hand the break back.

Roared on by a vociferous crowd at the Margaret Court Arena, 20-year-old Kumkhum attacked Kvitova’s serve with abandon to raise two match points in the next game and calmly sealed it on the first of them when the Czech pushed a return wide.

Kumkhum next plays German Mona Barthel.

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