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Hewitt Battles To First Round Win

Sydney, Australia

Paul-Henri Mathieu maintained his perfect record against Italian Andreas Seppi in their fourth ATP World Tour meeting.© Getty ImagesPaul-Henri Mathieu maintained his perfect record against Italian Andreas Seppi in their fourth ATP World Tour meeting.

Four-time Sydney champion Lleyton Hewitt survived a first round scare against Julien Benneteau on Tuesday at the Medibank International, coming back to defeat the Frenchman 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 in two hours and five minutes.

"It was always going to be tough in the first sort of tournament match back for a while," said Hewitt. "Trying to get into the routine for a while of getting out there again and on the big points being able to do what you want and what you're used to doing. I obviously got better as the match went on."

Hewitt, who improved to a 27-4 record at his hometown ATP World Tour 250 tennis tournament, titled in four consecutive appearances at this event – in 2000 (d. Stoltenberg), ’01 (d. Norman), ’04 (d. Moya) and ’05 (d. Minar). He put together a 22-match winning streak in Sydney before losing in the 2006 quarter-finals (l. to Seppi).

The 2001-02 ATP World Tour Champion needed a wild card to play in Sydney, having fallen to a current South African Airways ATP Ranking of No. 74. Hewitt was hobbled most of the 2008 tennis season with a left hip injury, and finished the year outside of the Top 25 for the first time since his rookie campaign in 1998.

The 27-year-old Australian will next face Serbian Janko Tipsarevic, who toughed out a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win over eighth-seeded American Mardy Fish in two hours. Tipsarevic opened his season last week in Chennai, where he fell to eventual champion Marin Cilic in the quarter-finals.

"He's one of the best ball-strikers going around," said Hewitt of Tipsarevic. "Very similar to Djokovic in that sense. He moves extremely well, but you got to hang in there with him and make him play that extra shot."

Home tennis fans were given more reason for cheer when Australian wild card Chris Guccione upset Czech No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-4. The Melbourne native converted both break point opportunities he created, while saving the two that he faced against the 21st-ranked Berdych – whom he also defeated in the quarter-finals last year. World No. 132 Guccione went on to reach his first ATP World Tour final in Sydney last year, falling to Dmitry Tursunov in the title match.

"I love playing here. It's obviously good conditions for me. It's hot and fast. Playing in front of an Aussie crowd doesn't hurt either," said Guccione. "Obviously I played well today and I'm very happy with my performance out there."

Australian tennis fans flocked to the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre on Tuesday to see wins for Hewitt and Guccione with attendance figures up by over 30% on last year's numbers.

Defending champion Tursunov suffered a first round exit at the hands of Richard Gasquet, losing to the Frenchman 7-6(4), 6-4. With Gasquet serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, Tursunov rallied to save two match points and created a break point for himself. However, the Russian could not get the break and Gasquet went on to secure only his second victory in six meetings over Tursunov on his third match point. The Frenchman is making his fifth appearance in Sydney with his best result a semi-final showing two years ago (l. to Moya).

Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu (pictured) maintained his perfect record against Italian Andreas Seppi in their fourth ATP World Tour meeting, winning 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 in just under two hours. Mathieu will next face top seed Novak Djokovic, who is looking to rebound from a first round upset loss last week in Brisbane.

French qualifier Jeremy Chardy was granted a place in the second round when Czech Radek Stepanek was forced to retire with illness trailing 6-4, 3-0. Chardy goes on to face fifth seed Igor Andreev. The 30-year-old Stepanek, who triumphed in Brisbane last week (d. Verdasco) said: “I'm disappointed that I couldn't finish the match today. I felt okay this morning, but after about four games into the match I started to feel unwell, and then it started affecting the way I was playing. After such a great week in Brisbane last week, I was really hoping to be able to do it again here in Sydney. I really am disappointed that I couldn't continue playing today."


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