Blake, Clijsters, Hingis advance

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – James Blake overcame a shaky start to give sometime hitting partner Alex Kuznetsov a lesson in how to play at the majors with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 drubbing in the second round of the Australian Open.

In the women’s draw, Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis raced each other into the third round, coming at it from different sides of retirement.

Clijsters extended the winning start to her farewell tour, beating Akiko Morigami 6-3, 6-0.

Joking that she was racing to get done Thursday before Clijsters, Hingis continued building momentum in her comeback with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Russian Alla Kudryavtseva.

Blake and Kuznetsov have practiced together before, but never officially played.

Kuznetsov, who moved from Ukraine to the United States at age 3, shocked Blake with his power when they first hit together four years ago.

Fifth-seeded Blake got another surprise this time, losing his serve twice and trailing 3-0 in the first set to a player ranked No. 216. But he turned things around with winners off his go-for-broke style, and never faced another break point.

From 2-4, he ran off the last four games of the first set, dropping only four points. Suddenly, Kusnetsov was pressing and overhitting.

At one point Blake showed his athleticism by tracking down a backhand in the corner, turning around completely, then rushing to the net on the far side to get to a drop volley that took him out of court. He flicked a forehand that ticked the net and hopped over Kusnetsov’s racket for a winner.

He also turned what appeared to be a certain overhead winner for Kusnetsov into a winning lob. Kusnetsov stood afterward with his hands on his hips, as if to say, “What do I have to do?”

“James just turned it up a notch – he’s playing awesome,” Kuznetsov said. “He was just playing too good.”

Blake, who won five titles last year and finished 2006 with a run to the Masters Cup final, had only 13 unforced errors to go with 26 winners.

Kuznetsov, in his second Grand Slam tournament and getting his career back on track after breaking his leg when he crashed a car into a tree in May 2005, matched Blake’s winners but had 36 unforced errors.

Tomas Berdych, seeded 13th, beat Australian Robert Smeets 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

The 23-year-old Clijsters, who has announced she is retiring at the end of this season in the hope of starting a family, recovered from an inconsistent opening set to run through the second.

After winning her opening match without losing a game, Clijsters is content to brush off a couple of service breaks and an erratic first set against Morigami.

“I won in two pretty easy sets, so I’m not complaining,” she said.

She started the year with a win over Maria Sharapova in the final of a Hong Kong exhibition tournament and last week won the Sydney International.

Clijsters made more unforced errors (12) than winners (11) in the first set, but clicked into gear and had only three unforced errors in the last six games to finish in just under an hour.

That was nine minutes faster than Hingis, who lost a little time when she was broken while serving for the match at 5-1.

Sixth-seeded Hingis, who became engaged to Czech player Radek Stepanek last month, won three straight Australian titles from 1997 and then lost three consecutive finals before quitting the tour because of nagging foot and ankle problems.

Her comeback to the Australian Open in 2006 ended in a quarterfinal loss to Clijsters. A rematch looms again in the quarterfinals, and Hingis is expecting more of herself this time.

“Everybody expects me to get to the quarterfinals, whereas last year every match was a big win, big victory,” the 26-year-old Swiss said. “I definitely expect that from myself, as well.”

Hingis next meets Aiko Nakamura of Japan, a surprise 6-3, 6-2 winner over India’s Sania Mirza.

In other women’s matches, 12th-seeded Anna Chakvetadze beat Laura Granville 6-2, 5-7, 6-1. Also advancing were No. 22 Vera Zvonareva, No. 29 Alona Bondarenko, No. 30 Tathiana Garbin and Australia’s Alicia Molik.

Light rain caused delays on outside courts, with matches held up by 90 minutes.

AP-ES-01-17-07 2320EST

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