Molik, Hewitt cement opening victory with Hopman mixed win

Saturday, January 1, 2011

PERTH - Australia got off to a winning start Saturday as Lleyton Hewitt and Alica Molik won their opening tie 2-1 over Belgium thanks to a concluding mixed doubles victory.

Molik set up match point in the final tiebreak set with a winner followed by an error from young Belgian Ruben Bemelmans. Belgian Justine Henin admitted to being a complete neophyte on the mixed court.

“This was my first time ever in mixed, at age 28, it was a lot of fun, good experience with Ruben,” said the seven-time Grand Slam winner.

Earlier, Hewitt pulled Australia back into contention as his 6-4, 6-3 defeat of inexperienced Bemelmans levelled at 1-1. Henin opened the New Year’s day contest as she beat Molik 6-4, 6-4.

The Australian has still won just a single set against Henin after six meetings.

“In the second set I had so many chances, it was a matter of making something happen,” said Molik.

“Opportunities only come along every so often against a quality player like Justine.”

Hewitt is among five Grand Slam champions in the field, along with world number three Novak Djokovic, Serb compatriot Ana Ivanovic, Italy’s reigning Roland Garros winner Francesca Schiavone and Henin.

Australia have had hard luck in more than two decades at the Burswood Dome, lifting its only title in 1999 through Mark Philippoussis and Jelena Dokic.

Hewitt, 29, and Molik are both striving for solid performances at the Australian Open starting in a fortnight, with Hewitt reaching the 2005 final and Molik playing a quarter-finals that same year.

Henin was making a cautious return to tennis after rehabilitating an elbow injury which has kept the seven-time Grand Slam champion off court since Wimbledon.

Henin scratched out her straight-set win with seven breaks of the Molik serve as the number 129 Aussie went down as might have been expected against the number 12. But Henin, who says that she is still not at 100 per cent after her injury, said she is not rushing her progress.

“I need time to get back to the top level,” said the 28-year-old Perth debutante.

“My resolution for 2011 will be patience, it is not one of my strong points.

“I want to play an entire season and try to remain healthy. Alicia is not an easy one to play, she changes the rhythm. It was a tough first match of the season. But I feel optimistic and pretty good after a first match.”

Hewitt, who last played in the Davis Cup before suffering a wrist injury in September, came full circle as he beat number 178 Bemelmans in his last match four months ago and repeated the job on the first day of the new year.

“It does not matter how much training you do, getting match-tough is not easy,” said number 54 Hewitt.

“I was happy to go through in straight sets. Getting out of break points, that is the kind of stuff you cannot buy, It was perfect for me.”

Hewitt has been working without interruption in the off season, immediately pleased with his preparation with coach Tony Roche.

“It is good to wake up and be injury-free,” said the veteran, who gives himself a few more years on the ATP if he can keep his fitness.

“That gives me the best opportunity to go out and perform if I do the hard work. I will go out at the Aussie Open and see what happens.”

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