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MELBOURNE: Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka had to wait until close to midnight to kick off her title defence but the ruthless world number two made quick work of teary German qualifier Ella Seidel with a 6-0 6-1 victory on the Grand Slam’s opening Sunday.

With fans on Rod Laver Arena still catching their breath after defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic got past teenager Dino Prizmic in a four-hour marathon, Sabalenka shrugged off the 11.41 p.m. start to overwhelm her 18-year-old German opponent.

“I’m super happy to be back. The last time I was here I had incredible memories, unforgettable memories. I’m so grateful to feel the support and the atmosphere,“ Sabalenka said.

The powerful second seed from Belarus wasted little time in asserting herself as she raced to a 5-0 lead in the opening set which she wrapped up in 22 only minutes with a couple of cool backhand volleys at the net.

Sabalenka, who briefly took the top ranking last year on the back of semi-final runs at the French Open and Wimbledon before a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open, continued to dominate and surged ahead 3-0 in the next as Seidel held back tears.

Grand Slam main draw debutant Seidel received huge cheers from the sympathetic crowd as she finally got on the scoreboard at 5-1 but there was no stopping Sabalenka who sent out a warning to her rivals with a dominant display.

Sabalenka, who will take on 16-year-old Brenda Fruhvirtova next, said not much had changed for her after an incredible 12 months on the tour.

“I still have to work hard and work for my dreams. It’s amazing I was able to achieve so many goals in tennis. There’s more to come,“ she said, before adding that she missed playing on the blue courts of Melbourne.

“Hopefully I can stay here till the very last day.” - Reuters