Australian Open: Hingis, Clijsters, Blake advance

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 25, 2007

Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia — James Blake overcame a shaky start to give sometime hitting partner Alex Kuznetsov a lesson in how to play at the majors with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 drubbing in the second round of the Australian Open.

Coming at it from different sides of retirement, Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis raced each other into the third round in the women’s draw.

Clijsters extended the winning start to her farewell tour, beating Akiko Morigami 6-3, 6-0 on Thursday.

Joking that she was racing to get done before Clijsters, Hingis continued building momentum in her comeback with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Russian Alla Kudryavtseva.

Blake and Kuznetsov have practiced together before, but never officially played.

Kuznetsov, who moved from the Ukraine to the United States at age 3, shocked Blake with his power when they first hit together four years ago.

Blake got another surprise early, losing his serve twice and trailing 3-0 in the first set. But he turned things around with winners off his go-for-broke style, and 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?”

Blake finished with only 13 unforced errors to go with 26 winners.

Kuznetsov, getting his career back on track after breaking his leg in a car accident, matched Blake’s winners but had 36 unforced errors.

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.