Australian Open: Sania, Somdev go down fighting

Monday, January 17, 2011

MELBOURNE - India’s Sania Mirza put on a spirited performance against former World No.1 and winner of seven Grand Slams Justine Henin of Belgium to go up a set but faltered thereafter to lose 7-5, 3-6, 1-6 in the Australian Open women’s singles first round here Monday.

There was bad news for India in the men’s singles also, with Somdev Devvarman going down fighting to Spain’s Tommy Robredo 6-7(4), 3-6, 4-6 in his first round match earlier in the day.

But it was Sania, who won hearts with her gutsy performance against the 2004 champion and 2006 and 2010 finalist, Henin, who is returning from an elbow injury she sustained at Wimbledon last year.

Sania, ranked a lowly 145th, had to come through the qualifiers to enter the main draw for making her seventh Australian Open appearance.

Once ranked as high as 27th in the world, the 24-year-old Indian was fluent in her groundstrokes and produced some irresistible winners to dominate the initial stages.

However, it was Sania’s serve which let her down, her first serve percentage being 56 percent. The 11th-seeded Henin, too, fumbled with her first serve at 51 percent. But the Indian had nine double faults and 48 unforced errors as compared to Henin’s four and 33.

Sania was quick to go up 3-1 in the first set but dropped her serve in the fifth game. In fact, the Indian looked set to lose the first set when Henin, after breaking her in the ninth game, was serving for the set but Sania broke back to draw parity. She then wrestled a decisive break in the 12th game to win the first set after an hour’s engrossing fight.

The Indian, however, couldn’t carry on in the same vein in the second set and after trading breaks initially was broken in the fifth game when her backhand return sailed long.

The Hyderabadi troubled Henin in the eighth game and even had two break points but squandered the advantage. Henin held for a 5-3 lead and then broke back immediately to make it a set all.

Sania ran out of steam in the decider while a confident Henin ran through the set to win the match in two hours and 12 minutes.

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