With a lot of the pre-tournament focus on the lead-in form of local hopes Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic, Marinko Matosevic flew somewhat under the radar.
Matosevic, the world No. 48, finished 2012 as the highest-ranked Australian player after a breakthrough season that saw him move 153 places up the rankings and contest his first Tour-level final.
He got his chance to shine on Tuesday afternoon on Margaret Court Arena, but was overshadowed by big-serving Croatian Marin Cilic, the No. 12 seed, who won 6-4 7-5 6-2 in two hours, 22 minutes
It is the second straight grand slam these two players have drawn each other in the opening round. Cilic, a semi-finalist at the 2010 Australian Open, beat the Australian in five gruelling sets at the 2012 US Open, coming from two-sets-to-love down for only the second time in his career.
Matosevic again had his chances in this match. He had a break point to take a 5-3 lead in the opening set and even held a set point in the second set at 5-4. Cilic found a way out each time, winning the first set 6-4 in 46 minutes and taking the second 7-5 in 65 minutes.
Cilic secured an early break in the third set, racing to a 3-1 lead.
The capacity crowd was vocal in support of Matosevic, but it wasn’t enough to get him back into the match as Cilic took the third set in 21 minutes.
Cilic slammed down nine aces, hitting 34 winners and making 33 unforced errors.
Matosevic hit 19 winners, but made 40 costly unforced errors. He had 11 break points for the match, but could not convert one.
Cilic told the crowd after the match he was pleased to make a winning return to Melbourne Park, having missed the 2012 Australian Open with a knee injury.
“It feels good to be back,” he said.
Cilic will play either American qualifier Rajeev Ram or Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round.