Martina Hingis remembers how miserably rotten it felt to slink off the court at Wimbledon last summer, having been upset in the first round by 16-year-old Australian phenom Jelena Dokic. So when she drew former doubles partner Mirjana Lucic in the first round at the Australian Open this year, she felt a flash of fear. Lucic, a former phenom herself, has dropped to the No. 49 ranking, but Hingis knew the match could be difficult.
She shouldn't have worried. Hingis was able to dispatch Lucic in 43 minutes this afternoon at Melbourne Park, vanquishing any anxiety of a rough start with a 6-1, 6-2 victory. Pete Sampras had an equally easy time Monday night with Australian serving specialist Wayne Arthurs, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, and Goran Ivanisevic was able to return to form this afternoon with a 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, 1-6, 9-7 upset of No. 13 seed Cedric Pioline.
American Alexandra Stevenson was not so fortunate, having trouble controlling her shots in a 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 loss to Sweden's Asa Carlsson. No. 5 seed Gustavo Kuerten also made an early exit, losing to Albert Portas, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8), 6-4. But the person Hingis had the most sympathy for was, of all people, Dokic, who was ousted Monday by Hungarian clay-court specialist Rita Kuti Kis, 6-1, 2-6, 6-3.
Dokic not only suffered the kind of humiliating defeat that Hingis had experienced in England, but, much like Hingis, she also caused a stir afterward with her behavior.
Tournament organizers were frustrated when she showed up to her postmatch news conference five hours after walking off the court, and things didn't improve once she arrived.
Reading from a statement, she said, "Basically I lost to a player that, you know, has never been a player and I guess probably never will be, but I lost to her." Asked what she had been doing since her match ended, Dokic said she was in church, "praying to play a bit better than I did today."
Hingis didn't hear about Dokic's comments until today, but she remembered making some impetuous comments of her own after losing to Steffi Graf at the French Open last summer, then making some more after her ouster at Wimbledon a month later.
"She has obviously got her own mind and soul and can speak up, but I guess she lost so she was not thinking," Hingis said. "I made so many mistakes myself in saying things which I shouldn't say.
"She's still young. There's quite a bit of pressure on her because she didn't want to lose here, but there are so many tournaments in front of her and she can do better."
With no other Australian women near the top of the rankings, Dokic certainly has been under an enormous amount of pressure to do well here. It showed early as she fell behind, 0-5, in the first 15 minutes. She was never able to dig herself out of trouble, finishing with 56 unforced errors over 24 games.
Stevenson had a similarly difficult time Monday. She overcame an early break by Carlsson but still lost the first set in a tiebreak as her shots sprayed outside the lines of the court.
She later said she had some difficulty getting a handle on the speed of the surface here, which has been changed for this tournament. The courts have been coated with a slicker surface that has drawn criticism from some players--Ukranian Andrei Medvedev said he felt like he was playing on a sheet of ice--and the balls have been more highly pressurized, increasing the speed of play.
Kafelnikov, the No. 2 seed, called the surface "ridiculously fast." Still, his biggest problem as the match wore on today came from his own body, not the court below him.
A lower back injury he suffered last week turned into a groin strain today, and he asked for an injury timeout at the end of the second set so he could receive treatment.
He felt better after getting a brief rubdown, but he remained careful through the next two sets, never overextending himself.
"I started the season 0-4, so today was a crucial match for me--I didn't want to overplay it," Kafelnikov said, allowing that the strategy didn't make for a very exciting tennis match.
"It wasn't a pretty match. It was an ugly match. I can play three or four times better; it's just a matter of when I get back into form. Today I had to tough it out and I did and I'm very proud of myself."
American Todd Martin was also able to battle through adversity Monday, rallying to overcome Zimbabwe's Byron Black, 5-7, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-2, 8-6 on Monday afternoon. Martin has made a habit of lengthy matches, playing a five-set marathon during a Davis Cup tie last summer and two more five-setters during the U.S. Open in September.
Monday had a slightly different twist. Both players negotiated the new court surface, spending most of the match hitting down the center of the court.
Hingis said she was relatively unaffected by the new surface, although she was hopeful the conditions would help her combat the more powerful opponents who sometimes give her trouble. Even with her lower-ranked opponents, she said she intends to be careful.
"You don't want to go out there and underestimate anyone," she said. "I've been there, done that, and I don't want to do it again."
When: Through Jan. 30.
Where: Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia.
TV: ESPN, ESPN2.
Defending champions: Yevgeny Kafelnikov, men's singles; Martina Hingis, women's singles.
Tuesday's results: Men--Yevgeny Kafelnikov (2), Russia, def. Jens Knippschild, Germany, 6-7 (7-4), 6-4, 6-1, 6-2; Nicolas Kiefer (4), Germany, def. Guillermo Canas, Argentina, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Albert Portas, Spain, def. Gustavo Kuerten (5), Brazil, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8), 6-4. Women--Martina Hingis (1) def. Mirjana Lucic, 6-1, 6-2; Barbara Schett (6) def. Meilen Tu, 6-2, 6-7 (7-1), 6-4; Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (13), Spain, def. Julia Abe, Germany, 6-2, 6-2.
Wednesday's featured matches: Men--Lleyton Hewitt, Australia, vs. Paul Goldstein, United States. Women--Serena Williams (3), United States, vs. Amanda Grahame, Australia.