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Tough starts for Somdev, Sani

Sania Mirza and Somdev Devvarman will have to play out of their skins in their first round matches to keep India's interest alive in the singles at the Australian Open beginning on Monday.

sports Updated: Jan 16, 2011 21:04 IST

Sania Mirza and Somdev Devvarman will have to play out of their skins in their first round matches to keep India's interest alive in the singles at the Australian Open beginning on Monday.

Somdev, ranked 108, was handed a wildcard following his impressive performance last year, but as luck would have it, the gutsy Indian has run into World No.52 Tommy Robredo of Spain, once ranked as high as No.5.

Sania, too, could not have drawn a tougher opponent in seven Grand Slams winner and former World No.1 Belgium's Justine Henin, who is making a comeback after missing the US Open due to an elbow injury suffered at Wimbledon.

The 24-year-old Indian, who slipped to 145th place in the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) rankings due to her chronic wrist, came through the tough qualifiers on Sunday to appear in her seventh straight Australian Open.

Somdev, on their hand, is making his maiden appearance at Melbourne Park. It's going to be far from a easy for the 25-year-old as he takes on Robredo for the first time.

"You don't ever expect an easy draw in a Grand Slam. But Robredo is really good. I will just give it my best and see what happens," Somdev told IANS.

The start of the year has not been ideal for the India's No.1 player, who made a first round exit at the Chennai Open, where he had reached the final in 2009. He, however, is not too worried over the lack of match practice and says he has used the time to work with his coaches.

"I am really happy to have received the wildcard into the Australian Open. It gives me the obvious head-start. I also have had more time to work with my coaches on my game. I hope it's a good year. I'll keep working hard and hopefully I'll steadily march ahead in the rankings as well," he said.

The heat at Melbourne is always considered to be a key factor but Somdev insists he "enjoys" playing in such conditions.

"I enjoy playing in the heat. It doesn't bother me at all, in fact, I think it works to my advantage!" he said.

Both Somdev and Sania will play their opening matches on Monday.

Sania's best singles performance at the Australian Open has been third round appearances in 2005 and 2008. She, however, won the mixed doubles title with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi in 2009, her only Grand Slam.

She, however, gets a breather since Henin is returning from a serious elbow injury.

Sania ended last year on a high after winning the silver at the Commonwealth Games and a bronze at the Asian Games in the singles.

In the women's doubles, Sania will partner Renata Voracova of Czech Republic and they will face top seeds Argentina Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta of Italy.