Originally created 01/18/06

Hingis looks sharp in comeback effort



MELBOURNE, Australia - Martina Hingis looked as if she'd never been away.

Playing on the center court where she won three of her five Grand Slam titles before retiring for three years, the Swiss star was right at home in the first major of her comeback effort, routing 30th-seeded Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-2 Tuesday in the first round of the Australian Open.

Hingis' victory was all the more impressive in that she had so little trouble with Zvonareva, who became increasingly irritated with everything from Hingis' winners to disputed line calls, repeatedly spiking her racket and smashing balls in anger.

Some had questioned Hingis' condition during warmup tournaments. But she moved well and looked sharp, confident and relaxed. She finished with 17 winners and only 11 unforced errors.

"I just came out here the other day. I could already feel the atmosphere coming from the previous years," the 25-year-old Hingis said. "You don't know how good it feels. This surface, this stadium has been so good for me."

Another Swiss star, top-seeded Roger Federer, overwhelmed a player he met for the first time just before the match. The lack of familiarity didn't matte. He routed Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, reminding everyone that the road to the title goes through him.

Third-seeded Lleyton Hewitt survived a scare, rallying again and again to beat the Czech Republic's Robin Vik 6-4, 2-6, 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3 in 3 hours, 45 minutes.

On the women's side, No. 2 Kim Clijsters advanced 6-3, 6-0, winning the last 11 games after dropping serve twice against South Korea's Cho Yoon-jeong. She showed signs of being bothered by a left hip strain that forced her out of the Sydney International last week.

Third-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, winner of the season-ending WTA Championship in November, struggled at times in a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over China's Sun Tiantian, a doubles gold medalist at the Athens Olympics.

Fifth-seeded Mary Pierce, the 1995 Australian Open champion and a finalist at the French and U.S. Opens last year, breezed past local wild-card entry Nicole Pratt 6-1, 6-1 in 52 minutes.

Hewitt, who lost last year's final to Marat Safin, is hoping to be the first Australian man to win the home major since Mark Edmondson in 1976.

He appeared headed to an early exit in the tournament that he most desperately wants to win. He looked dispirited and was making mistake after mistake as he fell behind in sets 2-1 and twice found himself down a break in the fourth.

Feeding off the crowd, Hewitt got better as the match wore on and finally found a way to oust Vik, who jumped 362 ranking spots last year to No. 58 but was playing in only his fourth Grand Slam match and first at Melbourne Park.

The inexperience showed. He failed to finish off Hewitt when he had chances and double-faulted five times in the final set.

"I didn't feel like I was striking the ball quite the way I would have liked," Hewitt said. "That's when you got to grit your teeth and hang in there, try and find a way to win when you're not playing well."

Hewitt, who had played only three matches since September because of a groin strain, toe surgery and time out for the birth of his first child in December, will play Juan Ignacio Chela in the second round.

Vik used power from the baseline and a deft touch at the net. Hewitt was in trouble in almost every service game. He had 13 double-faults but none in the final set. Hewitt always appeared on the verge of asserting himself, and he almost waited too long.

Vik broke to go up 6-5 and served for the match in the fourth set only to have Hewitt immediately break back at love and force a tiebreaker - then win six of the last seven points. Vik netted a backhand on set point.

Vik had his left leg treated three times in the fifth set but rallied from an early break to even the match at 3-3. Hewitt retaliated in the next game. He was helped when the racket slipped from Vik's hand as he was serving, leaving the court wide open. Hewitt needed treatment on his right calf, then held and broke Vik for the match.

Federer was broken only once in his match and yielded only 13 points in his other 12 service games. Increasingly frustrated as the match wore on, Istomin began to press, muttering as he tried to find something that would work.

"It was not easy today because he was serving big, taking a lot of chances on my return," Federer said. "So we didn't see too many rallies, which didn't really allow me to get the rhythm going. I won comfortably. That's what counts most."

Tommy Haas, the former No. 2-ranked player who upset Federer in the Kooyong exhibition last week, had a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 win over 14th-seeded Richard Gasquet. Gasquet was one of only four players to beat Federer in 2005.

Australia's Mark Philippoussis saw his comeback blunted, losing to 25th-seeded Sebastien Grsojean of France 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. American qualifier Alex Bogomolov Jr. defeated ninth-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-5.

No. 5 Nikolay Davydenko, No. 6 Guillermo Coria, No. 12 Dominik Hrbaty and No. 15 Juan Carlos Ferrero all advanced.

Among the women, No. 7 Patty Schnyder and No. 12 Anastasia Myskina, the 2004 French Open champion, won their matches.