Australian Open: Hingis, Clijsters reach 3rd round

Coming at it from different sides of retirement, Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis raced each other into the third round of the Australian Open.

india Updated: Jan 18, 2007 10:58 IST

Coming at it from different sides of retirement, Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis raced each other into the third round of the Australian Open.

Clijsters extended the winning start to her farewell tour, beating Akiko Morigami 6-3, 6-0 in 59 minutes.

Joking that she and Clijsters were racing to finish their matches on Thursday, Hingis continued to build momentum in her comeback after three years away with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Russian Alla Kudryavtseva. And fifth-seeded James Blake overcame a shaky start to give 19-year-old hitting partner Alex Kuznetsov a 1-hour, 21-minute lesson in how to play at the majors with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 drubbing on Rod Laver Arena.

The 23-year-old Clijsters, who has announced she is retiring at the end of this season in the hope of starting a family, recovered from an inconsistent opening set to run through the second. After winning her opening match without losing a game, Clijsters is content to brush off a couple of service breaks and an erratic first set against Morigami.

"I won in two pretty easy sets, so I'm not complaining," she said.

She started the year with a win over Maria Sharapova in the final of a Hong Kong exhibition tournament and last week won the Sydney International.

Clijsters made more unforced errors (12) than winners (11) in the first set, but clicked into gear and had only three unforced errors in the last six games.

She finished nine minutes faster than Hingis, who lost a little time when she was broken while serving for the match at 5-1. Clijsters said she is sick of talking about retirement, even with friends, and just wants to focus on her game.

Hingis said she'd never raise the topic of retirement with Clijsters.

Sixth-seeded Hingis won three straight Australian titles from 1997 and then lost three consecutive finals before quitting the tour because of nagging foot and ankle problems.

Her comeback to the Australian Open in 2006 ended in a quarterfinal loss to Clijsters. A rematch looms again in the quarterfinals, and Hingis is expecting more of herself this time. "Everybody expects me to get to the quarterfinals, whereas last year every match was a big win, big victory," the 26-year-old Swiss said. "I definitely expect that from myself, as well." She said her recent engagement to Czech player Radek Stepanek had given her more of a balance in life outside tennis, but had not changed her approach to the game.

Hingis next meets Aiko Nakamura of Japan, a surprise 6-3, 6-2 winner over India's Sania Mirza.

In other women's matches, 12th-seeded Anna Chakvetadze beat Laura Granville 6-2, 5-7, 6-1. Also advancing were No. 22 Vera Zvonareva, No. 29 Alona Bondarenko, No. 30 Tathiana Garbin and Australia's Alicia Molik.

Blake said he was shocked by Kuznetsov's power when he first confronted him as a hitting partner four years ago. Since then, Kuznetsov broke his leg in a car accident and has recovered to play in his second Grand Slam tournament.

With the roof closed, Blake got off to a shaky start, losing his serve twice and trailing 3-0 in the first set before suddenly turning things around with a display of winners off his go-for-broke style. He never faced another break point.

From 2-4, he ran off the last four games of the first set, dropping only four points. Suddenly, Kusnetsov was pressing and overhitting.

At one point Blake showed his athleticism by tracking down a backhand in the corner, turning around completely, then rushing to the net on the far side to get to a drop volley that took him out of court. He flicked a forehand that ticked the net and hopped over Kusnetsov's racket for a winner.

He also turned what appeared to be a certain overhead winner for Kusnetsov into a winning lob. Kusnetsov stood afterward with his hands on his hips, as if to say, "What do I have to do?" "James just turned it up a notch _ he's playing awesome," Kuznetsov said. "He was just playing too good." Blake, who won five titles last year and finished 2006 with a run to the Masters Cup final, had only 13 unforced errors to go with 26 winners.

Kuznetsov, in his second Grand Slam tournament and getting his career back on track after breaking his leg when he crashed a Ford Mustang into a tree in May 2005, matched Blake's winners but had 36 unforced errors.

Tomas Berdych, seeded 13th, beat Australian Robert Smeets 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Light rain caused delays on outside courts, with matches held up by 90 minutes.

First Published: Jan 18, 2007 10:38 IST