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Serena on song as American regains match fitness

MELBOURNE, JANUARY 20: Third seed Serena Williams, playing herself back to match fitness after less than a week down under, managed a 7-5,...

January 21, 2000

MELBOURNE, JANUARY 20: Third seed Serena Williams, playing herself back to match fitness after less than a week down under, managed a 7-5, 6-2 victory on Thursday to reach the third round of the $ 7.65 million Australian Open tennis tournament.

The American world number 3 dispatched her second consecutive Aussie challenger as she beat Nicole Pratt two days after ousting Amanda Grahame.

Williams, the reigning US Open champion, fell behind a break against Pratt in the early stages at the Rod Laver Arena before taking control as she levelled for 3-3. From that point, the seed’s big game began to click and Williams rolled to victory a set later.

Williams, competing at the open without the company of her sister Venus, has tied her career best in Australia by reaching the round of 32. Her unforced error rate declined as she got further along into the match.

The reigning US Open champion next faces Belgian Sabine Appelmans, who beat American Chanda Rubin 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Williams is playing in her first event since October. She hurt her back practising for the season-ending championships in November in New York and did not play.

“I was struggling in the first set,” said Williams. “It all came together in the second set.”

Williams admitted that she cut her preparation close, only arriving in Australia last Friday from the United States.

“I guess it’s not a long time, but as long as you prepare mentally and tell yourself that you will be okay, you’ll be fine.”

She added: “I’m not playing to the level I had at the Open. If I want to stay here the whole fortnight, I’m going to have to improve my game. I now I can, I just have to get my timing back.”

Red-hot Australian Lleyton Hewitt continued his unbeaten run for the year, winning the first 16 games before outclassed Spaniard Alex Corretja even got on the scoreboard.

That triumph was short-lived as the Adelaide teenager carved up the European, 6-0, 6-0, 6-1, for his 12th victory this season without a defeat.

Hewitt leads the season points race on the ATP tour after back-to-back tournament titles coming into the grand slam.

The Aussie produced just 10 unforced errors to 44 for Corretja. Hewitt had 23 winners and converted on nine of a dozen break-point chances.

Men’s holder Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the second seed, from Russia, continued a slow buildup as he ousted Czech Daniel Vacek, 6-3, 6-0, 6-1. Kafelnikov had complained after his last match about the blazing speed of the courts at this year’s edition.

But his opinion seems to have mellowed after his second win of 2000.

“I don’t think the conditions at this Grand Slam are a lot worse than any other Grand Slam. I think the surroundings around this tournament are wonderful.”

Kafelnikov said his game is improving with each match. “It definitely feels a lot better as the days go by. Now I’m getting slowly to the shape that I would like to have.”

A pair of men’s seeds were eliminated. Frenchman Arnaud Clement beat an ailing seventh seed Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador, who retired trailing, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2, 4-1.

Younes el Aynaoui of Morocco ousted 1999 semi-finalist Tommy Haas of Germany, 7-5, 6-3, 6-3. The African, at 28, is back in action after two ankle operations in recent years.

“Even after I was injured, I knew I could come back,” he said. “Today, I didn’t want to step onto the Centre Court and give a good match, I wanted to step there and win the match.”

German fourth seed Nicolas Kiefer advanced in an all-countrymen battle over Tomas Behrend, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0, 6-2, while Swedish 12th seed Magnus Norman, winner of five titles in 1999, ousted Italian veteran Gianluca Pozzi in a quick 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

On the women’s side, American Kristina Brandi notched an upset as she knocked out eighth seed Amanda Coetzer of South Africa, 6-1, 6-3 on a sunny day in Melbourne.

Two more seeds got through as number six Austrian Barbara Schett defeated Miroslava Vavrinec of Switzerland 6-4, 6-4.

Spanish veteran Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, number 13 at the event, beat Lisa Raymond of the United States, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Compatriot and former Wimbledon winner Conchita Martinez, seeded 10th, beat Olga Barabanschikova of Belarus, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, while 12th seed Sandrine Testud of France hammered Mexican Angelica Gavaldon, 6-1, 6-2.

There was a straight forward victory for 16th-seeded Russian Elena Likhovtseva over American Meghann Shaughnessy, 6-3, 7-5.

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