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AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Opening might down under

Federer, Agassi, Serena breeze

MELBOURNE -- Top-ranked Roger Federer ripped 54 winners past Fabrice Santoro today, 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 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 US Opens, Wimbledon, and the Masters Cup. He started this season with another title at Qatar and beat second-ranked Andy Roddick in the final of an exhibition tournament.

Four-time champion Andre Agassi, whose hip injury forced him to quit an exhibition match against Roddick leading up to this tournament, beat German qualifier Dieter Kindlmann, 6-4, 6-3, 6-0.

Other seeded players already through in the men's draw included Dominik Hrbaty (20), Ivan Ljubicic (22), and Mario Ancic (28).

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 to get a boost. It didn't work.

In a first-round women's match, 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 ferocious 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.

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

Sania Mirza beat 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 double faults, 14 unforced errors, and just two winners. . . .
Martina Hingis plans to play in Thailand at the end of the month, her first tournament since 2002.

She will play in the Volvo Women's Open in Pattaya beginning Jan. 31 to raise money for several Thai charities that help women and children who have suffered from abuse, homelessness, and illness.

She was 22 when she retired in 2002 after operations on both ankles. The five-time Grand Slam singles champion was the youngest player to reach No. 1 at 16 years 6 months. She won a combined 76 singles and doubles titles during her career.

Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport wasn't surprised about Hingis's latest plans.

"I was surprised that someone quit that young who still, I thought, could have made a better comeback from all her surgeries if she'd given it more time," Davenport said. "I told her that."

The WTA said that Hingis had so far entered only the Thailand event. "It could be a case of her testing the waters," WTA spokesman Roger Gatchalian said. "She's serious, though. It's not just a hit and giggle."

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