Wed, Jan 18, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Federer, Clijsters thunder ahead at Australian Open

AFP , MELBOURNE

Roger Federer of Switzerland hits a return during his first-round match against Uzbedistan's Denis Istomin at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne yesterday. Federer won 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.

PHOTO: AFP

Tournament favorites Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters powered into the second round of the Australian Open yesterday on a day that saw Martina Hingis made a successful comeback to Grand Slam tennis.

Hingis looked like the Swiss Miss of old on her return to a tournament she won three times between 1997-'99 and last played in 2002 before injuries cut her career short.

The 25-year-old demolished Russian 30th seed Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-2 in just over an hour to claim her highest-ranking scalp since launching a comeback earlier this month following a three-year injury layoff.

"I still need to do this and that, but I've played a couple of tournaments now and I feel I can get better ... I love coming back here, this stadium has been so good to me," a beaming Hingis said.

Federer also sent a chilling warning to his rivals by swatting Uzbek wildcard Denis Istomin 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in ruthless fashion.

The Swiss top seed, who on Monday equalled US great Pete Sampras' mark of 102 weeks as world No. 1 in the ATP rankings, was in devastating form and showed why he is the overwhelming favorite to land his second Australian Open.

Federer, who confessed that he knew nothing about his opponent, broke Istomin's serve six times and was always in command.

"It's never easy in the first round of a Grand Slam," he said. "But the scores are good and I'm very happy with the result. It's a good start to the tournament."

Germany's Florian Mayer is next up to face the Fed Express.

Lleyton Hewitt, the third seed who is scheduled to meet Federer in the semi-finals, was far less convincing against the 58th-ranked Robin Vik of the Czech Republic, struggling to finish him off in a five-set thriller.

The Australian finally hammered the last nail into Vik's coffin after three hours 45 minutes, winning 6-4, 2-6, 5-7, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.

"I had to wait, I had to bide my time and wait for my opportunities, but it was awfully close," Hewitt said.

Hewitt's former girlfriend Clijsters, like Federer a favorite to win the championship, showed no outward signs of the hip injury that threatened her appearance here as she brushed aside South Korea's Cho Yoon-jeong 6-3, 6-0.

But she said she was hurting and her movements and strokeplay were hampered.

"There's moments where it hurts, there's moments where it doesn't. So I just have to protect it," she said.

Mary Pierce, the fifth seed, was equally commanding in her opening match, taking less than an hour to dismantle Australian Nicole Pratt 6-1, 6-1 and will next play Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic.

"I've just been getting fitter and fitter over the last two years, working very hard for the last two years," said the veteran who won here in 1995.

"It started to pay off last year. I'm feeling really good still."

Others safely into the second round include Amelie Mauresmo, the third seed who beat Pierce in the final of the WTA Championship.

But she was taken to three sets by China's Sun Tiantian.

"The rhythm wasn't really here today," said the 1999 finalist, who committed 35 unforced errors.

"Still, it's the first match, sometimes it goes very well, sometimes you struggle a little bit -- that was the case today," Pierce said.

Patty Schnyder, the Swiss seventh seed who reached the quarter-finals here last year, is also through after overcoming Eleni Daniilidou of Greece 6-4, 6-3.

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