Hewitt clinches opening win for Australia

Sunday, December 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PERTH, Australia (AP) _ World top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt overcame a second-set lapse to beat Roger Federer 6-3, 0-6, 6-4 Sunday and clinch a round-robin win for Australia over Switzerland at the Hopman Cup team tennis tournament.

Earlier, Alicia Molik gave Australia a 1-0 lead with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Miroslava Vavrinec. Molik and Hewitt later combined to beat the Swiss pair 6-3, 6-1 in the mixed doubles to give Australia a 3-0 win.

The matches were played before a Hopman Cup record crowd of 8,486 indoors at the Burswood Dome.

In a Sunday night match, Spain defeated Argentina when veteran Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario beat Paolo Suarez 6-2, 6-3 and Tommy Robredo downed Mariano Zabaleta 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

The 23-year-old Zabaleta, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, agreed to replace countryman Guillermo Coria, who has been suspended until March by the ATP after testing positive to the banned steroid Nandrolone.

The 20-year-old Hewitt, appearing in his first Hopman Cup, won his first 12 service points and then broke Federer in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead in the first set. He then traded service games with Federer to take the set.

Federer, 20, dominated the second set before Hewitt fought back to win the third and decider.

Hewitt said he had no answer for Federer's ground strokes in the second set, particularly his strong backhand. But he said he knew Federer can be hot and cold.

``He's extremely flashy and he hits some incredible shots, but then he shanks a few balls and when you get your opportunities you've got to take them,'' he said.

``It's like weathering the storm out there and every time I've played him it's been the same sort of situation, he plays some really great tennis and then he steps off the peddle.''

Australia, the second seeds, will play against Spain, Argentina and Switzerland in Group B.

The United States, in Group A and represented by Monica Seles and Jan Michael Gambill, plays its first match on Monday against France's Virginie Razzano and Arnaud Clement. It is the only match Monday.

Belgium takes on Italy and Spain plays Switzerland on Tuesday.

The winners of each group play in the final next Saturday.