Monday, January 16, 2006

Hewitt Survives First Round Scare

Lleyton Hewitt came into Melbourne with much fanfare. Australia's biggest name in tennis is married to Australian actress Bec Cartwright. They recently had their first child together, a daughter whose pictures along with Mom and Dad appeared in magazines across the country. With much attention focused off tennis, the '05 Aussie runner-up hadn't played much entering the year's first slam.

Already having lost twice in tuneups, Hewitt almost fell victim for the third time against virtual unknown Robin Vik Tuesday afternoon in Australia. Vik- a 25-year-old Czech who had only two career slam appearances both last year entering this match- gave Hewitt all he could handle in a five setter which lasted three hours and forty-five minutes. A rusty Hewitt fought back from two sets to one down to pull out a 6-4, 2-6, 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3 win at a packed Rod Laver Arena.

"I didn't feel like I was striking the ball quite the way I would have liked," Hewitt told the press at a postmatch conference. "That's when you got to grit your teeth and hang in there, try and find a way to win when you're not playing well. That's what I can be proud of what I was able to do."

Amazingly enough, Hewitt's opponent entered the match with an ATP record of just 10-12 despite being ranked a career high 57th due to getting his points up in Futures tournaments. Right away though, the similar in style Vik tested Hewitt in a competitive opening set by breaking him twice. But Hewitt cameback with three breaks of his own to claim the 42-minute set.

Despite going down a set, Vik continued to play well from the baseline, smacking a few backhands down the line for some of his match high 66 winners to keep Hewitt off balance. With Vik controlling much of the play, he had no problem breaking Hewitt a couple of more times to level the match.

The third set was a little more unpredictable. Much like the first set, both players had success breaking. After being an early Vik break down, Hewitt bounced back with two more breaks and seemed in command. But while serving for a set lead up 5-3, he couldn't close out Vik. Instead, Vik turned the tables on Hewitt by taking the final four games to go ahead.

With Hewitt's timing off on many shots in the fourth set, Vik rolled to a 3-1 lead and was in position to go up two breaks. But Hewitt fought it off to stay alive. Down 4-3, he took advantage of a rare loose game by Vik to get back on serve and then won his third straight game to lead 5-4. Just when Hewitt seemed to have things under control, Vik cameback to go up 6-5 with a chance to serve for the match. However, a determined Hewitt broke him at love to force a tiebreak.

In it, the 24-year-old Aussie played sharper tennis from the baseline while his inexperienced opponent made some of his 66 unforced errors to give Hewitt the breaker, squaring the match.

Clearly, Hewitt had an edge with it going to a fifth set. He had won seven consecutive five setters and was 18-8 in his career. Vik had never played a fifth set before.

It showed right away when Hewitt broke in the opening game on one of Vik's 13 double faults. But the fiesty Vik wouldn't give up. With Hewitt up 2-1, Vik had a few chances to break but ran into some bad luck on one point. With both players scrambling, Hewitt came up to the net and hit a volley lob within Vik's grasp but his legs gave out, netting the overhead.

Even though he trailed 3-1 to one of the game's best players, the Czech wouldn't go home without a fight. When he held for 2-3 and then broke Hewitt in another lengthy game, the match was all leveled. But with Hewitt facing the prospect of being knocked out of a first round of a slam for the first time since losing to Ivo Karlovic at '03 Wimbledon, he raised his level to take the final three games, finally advancing to a second round meeting with Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela. Chela triumphed over British teenager Andy Murray 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.

At the end of the day, not much separated them. In fact, Vik won five more total points- Vik-178, Hewitt-173. Each player also had 13 double faults and broke each other nine times. Hewitt was 9-of-21 while Vik converted 9-of-28.

But ultimately, Hewitt's experience allowed him to move on.

In other men's action, top seed Roger Federer cruised to an easy straight sets win over Denis Istomin 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. Meanwhile, Nikolay Davydenko (5) cameback from a set down to defeat Ivo Karlovic 7-5, 4-6, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. Sixth seed Guillermo Coria also needed five to beat Victor Hanescu 6-4, 1-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. Dominik Hrbaty (12) was also pushed five by Oliver Marach before advancing 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3.

However, there were some upsets. German Tommy Haas eliminated Frenchman Richard Gasquet (14) 6-2, 7-5, 6-2. Luis Horna stopped Frenchman Gael Monfils (22) 6-4, 7-5, 6-1.

Other first round winners included Nicolas Kiefer (21), Igor Andreev (23), Olivier Rochus (24) and Max Mirnyi (30).

On Day One, second seeded American Andy Roddick made short work of Michael Lammer 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. American Taylor Dent (27) didn't have as much luck against Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Lopez eliminated him in straight sets 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (4).

On the women's side, defending champion Serena Williams (13) avoided the same fate as sister Venus by defeating China's Na Li 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-2. Third seeded Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo cameback to beat Tiantian Sun 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

'05 U.S. Open runner-up Mary Pierce (5) easily disposed of Nicole Pratt 6-1, 6-1. Meanwhile, '05 U.S. Open winner Kim Clijsters (2) handled Yoon Jeong Cho 6-3, 6-0 despite playing with a hip flexor. Seventh seeded Patty Schnyder ousted Eleni Daniilidou 6-4, 6-3.

Also advancing were Anastasia Myskina (12), Francesca Schiavone (15), Nicole Vaidisova (16), Dinara Safina (19), Flavia Pennetta (20), Ana Ivanovic (21), Anna-Lena Groenefeld (22), Marion Bartoli (27), Gisela Dulko (31) and Sania Mirza (32).

The lone upset victim was '05 Australian Open semifinalist Nathalie Dechy. The 11th seeded Frenchwoman lost to China's Zi Yan 7-6 (5), 2-6, 3-6.

Hingis' Slam Comeback Begins: In her return to the Australian Open, former world number one Martina Hingis easily dispatched of Russian Vera Zvonareva (30) 6-1, 6-2 in the night match.

Playing with vigor, the 25-year-old Swiss Miss struck the ball well from the baseline, moving Zvonareva side-to-side. Able to dictate most of the rallies with her tactical counterpunching game, Hingis took the Russian out of her rhythm and flustered her.

She finished with 17 winners and made only 11 unforced errors.

"You don't know how good it feels," an excited Hingis said. "This surface, this stadium has been so good for me."

Hingis will next face Finland's Emma Laine.

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