Agassi starts Open with easy victory

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2005

MELBOURNE, Australia — Andre Agassi shrugged off a hip injury that nearly kept him out of the Australian Open, beating German qualifier Dieter Kindlmann 6-4, 6-3, 6-0 in a first-round match Monday.

The four-time champion has lost just one once in his last four trips to Melbourne Park — a semifinal setback last year to Marat Safin.

The 34-year-old Agassi damaged a tendon in his right hip and quit an exhibition match against second-ranked Andy Roddick leading up to this tournament, and his status for the championship was in doubt until Sunday.

Playing in the third match of the day on center court, Agassi broke Kindlmann three times from 17 chances in the first two sets but converted all three break-point opportunities in the third to wrap up the last set in 19 minutes.

Top-ranked Roger Federer ripped 54 winners past Fabrice Santoro, opening his Australian Open title defense with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 victory.

Federer won all 12 points in the first three games against Santoro and lost just three points as he raced to a 5-0 lead in the first set.

''I think the start was important for me,'' said Federer, who extended his winning streak to 22 matches. ''That set the tone for the rest of the match. I never really gave him a chance.''

Santoro agreed.

''It's as if Roger was saying to me, 'Right, that's what I'm offering you today, OK!','' Santoro said. ''You get the feeling that in each of his matches he just wants to show straight off who the boss is.''

Federer won 11 titles last season, including the Australian and U.S. Opens, Wimbledon and the Masters Cup. He started this season with another title at Qatar and beat Roddick in the final of an exhibition tournament. Federer's next opponent will be Japan's Takao Suzuki, a surprising 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 winner over American Jan-Michael Gambill.

In women's first-round matches, Serena Williams had more trouble with her shoes than she did with Camille Pin, winning 6-1, 6-1 in the opening match on center court.

Williams, who completed a ''Serena Slam'' with a victory at Melbourne in 2003 but missed last year's first Grand Slam due to an injured knee, mixed 27 winners with 22 unforced errors.

The seventh-seeded Williams hit some brutal backhand winners and kept the 23-year-old Pin scrambling just to stay in points.

Williams did a lot of running early, successful on nine net approaches and producing seven winners before her right shoe fell off at deuce in the second game and skidded behind the baseline.

Williams laced up the shoe and won the point when it was replayed. She spent time between games tying and retying her shoelaces, but otherwise didn't have many problems.

A double-fault on the first point of the match was simply a sign of a nervous start, she said.

''But after the first game, I was OK. I thought if I just get the first game, then I'll be all right. I think that's just first-round nerves.''

After failing to win a major last season, Williams said she's one of the main contenders in a wide-open draw at Melbourne Park.

''I definitely wouldn't be here if I didn't think so; I'd rather stay home,'' she said. ''My goals are pretty much just to win my matches. I think Grand Slams will come with it.''

Pin hit just one clean winner in each set and didn't hold serve in the match.

U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova beat American Jessica Kirkland 6-1, 6-1 in 43 minutes, while 15th-seeded Silvia Farina Elia of Italy and 17th seeded Fabiola Zuluaga also advanced. Slovakia's Martina Sucha upset 16th-seeded Ai Sugiyama of Japan 7-5, 6-4.

Sania Mirza beat Australia's Cindy Watson 3-6, 6-3, 6-0, becoming only the second Indian woman to win a main draw match at a Grand Slam.

Kuznetsova, seeded fifth, hit 22 winners and five aces. Kirkland had five doubles faults, 14 unforced errors and just two winners.

In the men's draw, French Open champion Gaston Gaudio of Argentina, ranked 10th, beat American Justin Gimelstob 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-3 and 13th-seeded Tommy Robredo of Spain had a 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 win over Australia's Scott Draper. Other seeded players already through included Dominik Hrbaty (20) and Croatians Ivan Ljubicic (22) and Mario Ancic (28) and Thomas Johansson (30).

Agassi got the better of a battle of the baseliners, and received a good test of his hip against Kindlmann, who is ranked 173rd. He welcomed the 2-hour, 18-minute victory.

''I prefer three sets,'' he said.

Agassi, who won Australian Open titles in 1995, 2000, '01 and '03, faced a potential second-round match against Germany's Rainer Schuettler, who he beat in the final two years ago. Schuettler has since slipped to 40th in the rankings.

''I think it certainly speaks to the quality of men's tennis,'' Agassi said. ''I'm just going to have to step up and play my game.''

Santoro, who has twice beaten Federer on hard courts, was a tricky first-round opponent for the defending champ because of his reliance on spin and slice.

But he struggled with an upset stomach after an injection for a wrist problem, and even took a big gulp of warm soda when he was down 4-1 in the second to try and get a boost. It didn't work.

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