Thu, Aug 03, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Sharapova and Hingis surge forward

TENNIS Martina Hingis eased back into the Acura Classic by downing US qualifier Meilen Tu, while Russia's Maria Sharapova defeated compatriot Vasilisa Bardina 6-4, 6-1

AFP , SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates her 6-4, 6-1 win against fellow Russian Vasilisa Bardina after their match at the Acura Classic in Carlsbad, California.

PHOTO: AFP

Second seed Maria Sharapova and Swiss comeback queen Martina Hingis advanced in straight sets on Tuesday, both reaching the third round of the US$1.34 million Acura Classic WTA hardcourt event.

Sharapova, playing her first match since Wimbledon, defeated fellow Russian Vasilisa Bardina 6-4, 6-1, while Hingis beat Meilen Tu 6-2, 6-3 in her first Southern California match since 2001.

"I'm excited going into a tournament feeling healthy and playing pretty well," Sharapova said. "It's a matter of getting into the matches again. I'm happy to win the first round, but there's a long way to go."

Beating Bardina was just the first step Sharapova expected.

"I felt good. We had some long rallies at the start," she said. "But after she broke me in the first set, I made her play a bit and put pressure on her. I felt really good out there."

Five-time Grand Slam winner Hingis, who came back to the sport after a three-year absence, advanced after a first-round bye in 66 minutes over the 91st-ranked American.

Hingis turned back the clock and improved to 15-3 at the tournament. She staved off six break points while breaking three times in the comfortable victory.

In their junior days, Tu beat Hingis in the final of the 2004 US Open juniors, a match which Hingis certainly recalls. But her game has moved on in the past dozen years.

"When they were reading my accomplishments in the [pre-match] warmup, it sounded like a fairytale," 13th-ranked Hingis said. "That was a part of my life.

"When I left tennis and did something else, that was another part, But now I feel more like a rookie again rather than a comeback," she said.

Hingis next plays either Italy's Flavia Pennetta or American Jamea Jackson.

The eighth-seeded Swiss won the tournament on her debut as a teenager during the magical 1997 season in which she lifted three of the four majors. Her last appearance was a semi-final run five years ago against Monica Seles.

"The fun is back -- but only when you win," Hingis said.

"I've worked hard for the last two weeks. But your recovery time is not the same as when you are 17. I used to get back onto the court after an hour or two hours of rest. Now, I take three or four," she said.

Hingis, 25, cemented her return to the game with the Rome title in May, but is starting afresh in San Diego in hopes of erasing memories of a third-round Wimbledon upset loss to Japan's Ai Sugiyama.

Sugiyama, last year's finalist here, suffered a surprise loss earlier as she went out in the first round to Russian Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 7-5.

The US Open tune-up's field is headed by Belgian Kim Clijsters, who began her summer with a hardcourt title at the weekend at Stanford.

Five-time champion Andre Agassi was upset by Italian qualifier Andrea Stoppini 6-4, 6-3 in the second round of the Legg Mason Classic on Tuesday.

Sixth-seeded Sebastien Grosjean of France fell to Wesley Moodie of South Africa 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, and Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark defeated ninth-seeded Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.

Top-seeded James Blake avoided the upset bug, advancing past fellow American Kevin Kim 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.

Unable to break Stoppini's serve, the fourth-seeded Agassi lost in his opening match for just the fourth time in 17 appearances in the Washington event. The eight-time Grand Slam winner had advanced to at least the semi-finals in each of his previous seven appearances here.

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