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Clijsters hits high note

Sing-along follows straight-set win

By John Pye
Associated Press / January 18, 2012
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MELBOURNE - Defending champion Kim Clijsters cruised into the third round of the Australian Open and then showed just how much support she has at Rod Laver Arena by getting the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday’’ to her younger sister.

Clijsters needed only 47 minutes to beat Stephanie Foretz Gacon of France, 6-0, 6-1, early today, conceding just 10 points in the first set and showing no signs of a hip problem that forced her to retire during a semifinal against Daniela Hantuchova at a warm-up tournament two weeks ago.

She will meet Hantuchova in the next round here, and has a potential rematch of the 2011 Australian Open final with Li Na in the fourth.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer took differing paths against German rivals to the next stage. Nadal beat Tommy Haas, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, in the last afternoon match on Rod Laver Arena. Second-seeded Nadal had his right knee heavily taped again after hurting it while sitting in a hotel chair on the weekend, but it didn’t seem to restrict him.

“Much better, I am very happy about how the knee is improving,’’ Nadal said. “I am playing without problems, so that’s OK.’’

Federer, who has won four of his 16 Grand Slam titles in Australia, got a walkover into the third round when Andreas Beck withdrew from their scheduled Hisense Arena match because of a lower-back injury. It deprived Federer of a different view at Melbourne Park, where he has played every match in Rod Laver Arena since the third round of the 2004 Australian Open.

Eighth-ranked American Mardy Fish became the first top 10 player on the men’s side to lose, falling, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), to Colombia’s Alejandro Falla.

No. 7 Tomas Berdych advanced, 6-1, 6-0, 7-6 (7-4), over Olivier Rochus of Belgium, and Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany was leading, 6-0, 4-0, when Spain’s Pere Riba retired because of an injured left foot.

Clijsters and No. 20 Hantuchova, a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 winner over Lesia Tsurenko, have been playing each other for years.

“When the injury happened, it happened against Daniela,’’ Clijsters said of the hip-muscle spasms she had at the Brisbane International. “She’s been playing well this season so far.

“We both go back a long way - we grew up playing under-14s together. Now almost 30 - still battling it out.’’

This was Clijsters’s best run at a major since the last Australian Open - she lost in the second round at the French Open and didn’t play Wimbledon and the US Open.

Li is also returning to form, going further than she has a Grand Slam tournament since her breakthrough win at the French Open. She next plays No. 26 Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain, who beat Olga Govortsova of Belarus, 6-1, 6-0.

Serena Williams advanced to the second round in a match that finished after midnight, her ankle holding up to its first test since she sprained it in Brisbane two weeks ago. The only thing that bugged her, despite the 11:32 p.m. start, were the insects in a 6-3, 6-2 win over Tamira Paszek.

“I hate bugs more than you can imagine,’’ Williams said. “Like, they kept jumping on me. Yuck!’’

Two years after she won her last Australian Open title, Williams extended her winning streak to 15 matches at Melbourne Park. She won in 2009 and 2010 but missed the chance to defend her title last year amid a prolonged injury layoff.

Williams was playing only her third match since losing the US Open final to Sam Stosur last September, so she acknowledged being “a wee bit tight.’’ Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova and No. 4 Maria Sharapova also advanced.

Stosur didn’t make the second round, losing, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, to 59th-ranked Sorana Cirstea, but fans hung around to watch another Aussie hope. Hewitt, a two-time major winner, gave the night-session crowd something to cheer when he beat Cedrik-Marcel Stebe of Germany, 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.

Hewitt’s win put him into a second-round match against old rival Andy Roddick.

Defending champion and top-ranked Novak Djokovic won the last 17 games to beat Paolo Lorenzi of Italy, 6-2, 6-0, 6-0. Both the men he has beaten in Australian finals also advanced.

Andy Murray, runner-up the last two years, beat American teenager Ryan Harrison, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, beaten by Djokovic in the 2008 final, eliminated Denis Istomin, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.

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