Wed, Jan 05, 2005 - Page 19 News List

US sets its sights on Hopman Cup title

THREE IN A ROW?The US Hopman Cup team of James Blake and Meghann Shaughnessy easily beat the team from The Netherlands, taking an unbeatable 2-0 lead

AFP , PERTH, AUSTRALIA AND DOHA, QATAR

Swiss world No. 1 Roger Federer in action during the match against Spain's David Ferrer in the Qatar Open Tennis Championship on Monday.

PHOTO: EPA

The US set its sights on three consecutive Hopman Cup titles yesterday when they brushed past The Netherlands in their opening tie of the mixed-teams tennis tournament at the Burswood Dome.

The American pairing of Meghann Shaughnessy and James Blake won both singles ties to take an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the tie with the remaining mixed doubles fixture a dead exhibition rubber.

The team of Lindsay Davenport and Blake gave the US back-to-back titles last year, the first nation to achieve the feat, but their hopes of a hat-trick were set back shortly before this year's tournament when Davenport was forced out with a knee injury.

But Shaughnessy proved she was an adequate replacement, downing Michaella Krajicek, the world's number one junior 7-5, 6-4 in the opening match.

"Anything less than a win is a disappointment for the US so we've got some pressure," Shaughnessy joked.

The American was tested in the first set of her match with the teenage Krajicek and it was the 12th game before she was finally able to break the sister of former Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek.

"She makes me feel old -- I mean she's 15-years-old but she's a great player," Shaughnessy said.

For Blake, on the comeback trail after a disastrous year in 2004 when his father died and he suffered several debilitating injuries, the 6-1, 7-6 (7/4) win over Peter Wessels was a welcome return to a tournament he adores.

"I love it ... this was kind of my first big tournament," he said.

"These fans supported me when I was definitely a nobody so I want to come back here as many times as I can in front of these fans -- it's the best tournament in the world I think."

Blake, now ranked 97 in the world, suffered a freak injury last May while practising for the Masters tournament in Rome, fracturing a vertebra in his neck after he tumbled into a net post.

In July his father died from cancer and later in the year his season was written-off completely when he contracted Zoster -- a virus which left him weak, blurred his vision and partially paralyzed one side of his face.

"I really didn't know what to expect coming out here for my first match and I think this is the perfect test," he said.

"I saw that I could play some of my best tennis in the first set and I saw even when it got tight and I was down a break in the second set that I could come back and still play well and be composed.

"I never knew if I was going to come back after such a tough year last year."

Blake said the horror year had put things in perspective for him.

"I realize it's a lot of fun -- it's what I do for a living and I want to be as good as I can be but there are more important things in life," he said.

The American cruised through the first set against Wessels but dropped his serve to trail 5-3 in the second before breaking back immediately and dominating the tiebreak.

Later yesterday the German pair of Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Tommy Hass, who upset the top-seeded Russian duo of Anastasia Myskina and Marat Safin in their first tie, were due to take on Italy.

Italy, represented by Francesca Schiavone and Davide Sanguinetti, lost their first tie to Argentina.

Federer back on track

Roger Federer began the new year with a surprise by announcing a new coach, Tony Roche, and also with more of the same -- a thunderous attacking performance to extend his unbeaten sequence to 18 matches.

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