MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, JAN. 14 -- Boris Becker and Steffi Graf, more predictable than the weather, stylishly kicked off the Australian Open on a day when courtside temperatures plunged from 110 degrees to 60.
Midday winds took the edge off the heat, blue skies turned purple, feathery clouds gave way to rain. Through it all tennis balls kept flying, outdoors and indoors, for 13 1/2 hours.
Becker paused only for the closing of the retractable roof above center court before beating Jeremy Bates, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Graf slowed down just long enough to allow her opponent, Jennifer Santrock, to catch her breath in their 48-minute, 6-3, 6-0 match.
Also, fourth-seeded Gabriela Sabatini, forgetting the severely sprained ankle that knocked her out here last year, defeated Linda Harvey-Wild, 6-3, 6-1.
Becker, ranked No. 2 behind Stefan Edberg, could take over the No. 1 spot if he wins this tournament. But he hasn't gotten past the quarterfinals in five appearances here. He came to Australia three weeks ago to adjust to the heat and work on his hard-court game, but lost first-round matches in consecutive tuneup tournaments.
Becker's work before the tournament paid off with a better first-round performance than he's usually had here.
A wildly cheering crowd roared on each point Bates won. But neither the fans nor a break in play to wipe off the court and close the roof stopped Becker.
By running her Australian Open victory streak to 22 and opening her bid for a fourth straight title, Graf answered the talk that she is more vulnerable than ever.
Sprinting around the court and showing off a stronger topspin backhand than she's ever had, Graf raced to a 4-0 lead before losing concentration and making four straight errors in a service break.
Santrock, ranked 151, held her next two services with deep, angled shots off her left-handed forehand. But she could do little once Graf regained her rhythm and pounded the ball throughout the second set.
"It's better when you go on court and feel there is more competition," she said.
Sabatini played cautiously in the first set, staying back more than she did in the U.S. Open and slugging it out from the baseline against the net-rushing Harvey-Wild.
She said thoughts of the injury in last year's third round "came to my mind a few times, but it's nothing serious."
Harvey-Wild, a 19-year-old American making her first appearance in Melbourne, took advantage of Sabatini's caution and broke her in the first game. Sabatini grunted angrily at herself and broke back.