Hingis picks up where she left off

MARTINA HINGIS looked as if she’d never been away.

Playing on the centre 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 in the first round of the Australian Open.

Some had questioned Hingis’ condition during warmup tournaments. But she moved well and looked sharp, confident and relaxed.

“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.”

No. 2 Kim Clijsters, although bothered by a hip strain, advanced 6-3, 6-0, winning the last 11 games after dropping serve twice against South Korea’s Cho Yoon-jeong.

Third-seeded Amelie Mauresmo struggled at times in a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over China’s Sun Tiantian, while fifth-seeded Mary Pierce, the 1995 Australian Open champion, breezed past local wild-card entry Nicole Pratt 6-1, 6-1.

Another Swiss star, top-seeded Roger Federer routed Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.

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.

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 to be heading 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.

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 will play Juan Ignacio Chela, conqueror of Britain’s Andy Murray, in the second round.

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, while 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.

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