- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2012

MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal has a new injury — a tendon problem in his right knee that nearly forced him to forfeit a first-round match at the Australian Open on Monday that he won handily.

Roger Federer, defending champion Kim Clijsters and top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki were also bothered by injuries coming into the year’s first Grand Slam event, but all advanced in more routine fashion and appeared to be over their ailments.

That wasn’t the case with Nadal. Bothered by a left shoulder injury late last year, the Spaniard’s right knee was heavily taped during his 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 win over Alex Kuznetsov.

“I was sitting on a chair in the hotel, I felt like a crack on the knee … really strange,” Nadal said. “I stand up. I felt the knee a little bit strange. I moved the leg like this two times to try to find the feeling. After the second time, the knee stays with an unbelievable pain completely straight. I have no movement on the knee.”

He wasn’t completely sure he could play but decided to do so after an MRI exam showed no major damage. although he still had concerns.

“I started with a little bit of a scare at the beginning, and nervous because I was really disappointed yesterday,” he said. “But after the first 10 games … I started to play with normal conditions.

Nadal added that he doesn’t quite understand what happened, but “I am really happy that today I was ready to play and I played a fantastic match.”

Federer, who pulled out of a tournament in Doha two weeks ago because of a sore back, began his bid for his 17th Grand Slam title — and first since the 2010 Australian Open — with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 win over qualifier Alexander Kudryavtsev. It was the 60th win at the Australian Open for Federer, who also has 60-plus wins at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

The third-seeded Swiss took the first two sets and was up a break in the third before the Russian rallied with a break of serve in the fifth game of the final set. Federer, however, broke Kudryavtsev in the next game with a backhand cross-court winner and sealed the match when the Russian hit a forehand wide.

“No problem,” Federer said. “I am happy to be 100 percent fit.”

Just as quickly, he batted away speculation about a possibly divisive issue with Nadal. Nadal was critical of Federer on Sunday for not speaking out publicly in support of players who are pushing the ATP for changes in scheduling and prize money.

“Things are fine between us, you know. I have no hard feelings towards him,” Federer said. “It’s been a difficult last few months in terms of politics within the ATP.”

Nadal has “mentioned many times how he gets a bit tired and frustrated through the whole process, and I shared that with him. It’s normal. But, for me, obviously nothing changes in terms of our relationship. I’m completely cool and relaxed about it.”

Clijsters opened with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Portuguese qualifier Maria Joao Koehler, showing no signs of the hip spasms that forced her to withdraw from a tuneup event in Brisbane 10 day ago.

Wozniacki, who injured her left wrist in a quarterfinal loss at the Sydney International, cruised past Australia’s Anastasia Rodionova 6-2, 6-1 in the last match of the evening on Rod Laver Arena.

“I got a bit nervous about my wrist in Sydney, but I am happy I could play full out,” Wozniacki said.

Li Na, who lost the Australian final to Clijsters last year, defeated Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-1. In the first featured match of the tournament, third-seeded Victoria Azarenka won 12 straight games to rout Heather Watson 6-1, 6-0 on center court.

The Hisense Arena crowd was solidly behind Nadal, particularly the groups of young women who screamed and whistled when he changed his shirt and between games yelled, “We love you Rafa” and “Vamos Rafa!” He didn’t give them a chance to cheer for long, needing only about 30 minutes each to win the final two sets.

Clijsters similarly had an easy time in the second half of her match, breaking Koehler in the deciding game of the first set and reeling off 13 straight points to start the second. She said the win wasn’t as easy as it looked.

“It was hard to really get a good rhythm out there,” Clijsters said. “I did feel like I was seeing the ball probably not always as good as I would like to.”

She said she’d dealt with the “emotions and stress” of her hip injury, adding she was lucky even to get a few warmup matches in Brisbane.

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, referring to her Australian Open campaign. She had a confidence-boosting buildup at the Hopman Cup and Sydney.

Of the six women who can reach the top ranking, eighth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska has the biggest task, having to win the Australian title. She had to scrap 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.

Other women advancing included No. 16-seeded Peng Shuai of China, No. 20 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, No. 22 Julia Goerges and No. 26 Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain. Eleni Daniilidou of Greece beat 41-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan 6-3, 6-2.

No. 19 Flavia Pennetta, No. 23 Lucie Safarova and No. 28 Yanina Wickmayer were among the first-round losers.

Most of the local attention Monday was on 19-year-old Bernard Tomic, who rallied from two sets down to beat No. 22 Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. A five-set win over the 2009 semifinalist will no doubt bolster Tomic 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 U.S. man, defeated Gilles Muller had a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to progress along with 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, No. 7 Tomas Berdych, No. 10 Nicolas Almagro, No. 13 Alexandr Dolgopolov, No. 18 Feliciano Lopez, No. 21 Stanislas Wawrinka and No. 30 Kevin Anderson.

No. 25 Juan Monaco, No. 28 Ivan Ljubicic and No. 31 Jurgen Melzer joined Verdasco as other seeded players to lose.