Sun, 19 Jan 2003

Easy for Hewitt as Williams, Clijsters move into last 16

Rob Woollard, Agence France-Presse, Melbourne, Australia

Lleyton Hewitt moved closer to becoming the first home-grown Australian Open champion for 27 years Saturday as girlfriend Kim Clijsters stayed on course for a showdown with Serena Williams.

World number one Hewitt equaled his best-ever performance at the Australian Open after trouncing Czech Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6- 2, 6-0 in just 90 minutes at the Rod Laver Arena.

The victory puts the top-seeded Hewitt into the last 16 for only the second time in seven attempts. He faces 18th seed Younes El Aynaoui in Monday's fourth round.

The 21-year-old's romp came after his 74-minute straight sets victory over compatriot Todd Larkham in the second round and his toughest match yet in the opening round when he edged out Swedish qualifier Magnus Larsson in five sets.

"I started a bit rusty tonight, but I got better during the match," Hewitt said.

"You don't have to play your best tennis just yet and you've just got to try and find a way to win the first few rounds, get your way into the tournament.

"In the last few Grand Slams I've been able to play some of my best tennis towards the end of the Grand Slams rather than at the start.

"I feel like I'm getting better and better with each match."

Hewitt's chances of reaching next Sunday's final received a boost earlier Saturday when Russian third seed Marat Safin was forced to withdraw from the tournament with a wrist injury.

Safin's withdrawal means Schuettler advances to a last 16 meeting with James Blake, the American 23rd seed having too much class for Alberto Martin in his third round match, winning 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Swiss star Roger Federer worked his way into the second week to set up a revenge match with Argentina's David Nalbandian in the fourth round.

Sixth seed Federer accounted for Swedish qualifier Andreas Vinciguerra 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to complete a satisfactory first week in which he hasn't dropped a set.

Federer faces his first crunch match of the Open on Monday against Wimbledon finalist and 10th tournament seed Nalbandian in the fourth round.

Nalbandian got a saloon passage into the fourth round on Saturday when his opponent Xavier Malisse retired during the match with an arm injury.

In the women's draw, world number one Serena Williams and Belgian fourth seed Clijsters enjoyed easy wins to romp into the last 16, both recording victories inside an hour to ensure their presence in week two.

Williams overwhelmed Thailand's 26th seed Tamarine Tanasugarn with an exhibition of power tennis on her way to a 6-1, 6-1 victory in just 46 minutes.

Clijsters needed slightly longer against Belarus' Tatiana Poutchek, but was just as emphatic in a 6-2, 6-1 55-minute workout. She now faces Amanda Coetzer of South Africa on Monday. Coetzer defeated Israeli Anna Pistolesi 6-0, 6-2.

Williams' win sets her up for a fourth round meeting with Greece's Eleni Daniilidou, who defeated French 16th seed Nathalie Dechy 6-4, 6-3.