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An off-colour Sania loses to Nakamura in singles

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SOME CONSOLATION: Sania's win in the first round of the doubles alongside Anabel Medina Garrigues gave her something to be happy about after a tough loss in the singles.
SOME CONSOLATION: Sania's win in the first round of the doubles alongside Anabel Medina Garrigues gave her something to be happy about after a tough loss in the singles.

Nirmal Shekar

Has better luck in the doubles partnering Garrigues

Melbourne: It is the cruellest form of divorce in sport, one in which one party is a hapless, mute victim without a ghost of a chance to have a say.

In the capricious world of sport, such a separation often happens without a warning and in public as it did for Sania Mirza in the second round of the Australian Open tennis championship on Thursday.

Divorced by her game abruptly and perfunctorily, the 20-year old Indian went through the motions in zombie mode against Aiko Nakamura. Mercifully, it was brief, the Japanese woman winning 6-3, 6-2 in an hour and five minutes.

For a performer on a big stage, there cannot be a worse possible feeling.

Like an actor who's forgotten his lines and a singer whose voice has deserted her in front of the microphone, Sania was left wondering: where did it all go? But, then, this is a world where humiliation is a step away from jubilation, where triumph and disaster are not Kipling's imposters but very real.

An off day

"What can you say?" Sania wondered aloud at the press conference. "You have your off days but when it comes in a Grand Slam it is all the more disappointing. I have been playing well the last couple of months but I just didn't have the feel today." Going through the motions like a sleepwalker, Sania found herself flailing hopelessly at the warm air as Nakamura's shots whooshed by. Her feet heavy, her forehands and backhands misbehaving, her serve little above mediocre, the young woman from Hyderabad lived through a nightmarish hour before quickly disappearing from court No.6.

Even the most optimistic of Indian fans who kept up the `Come on, Sania' chants a little way into the second set gave up and the small Japanese cheer group took charge.

Nakamura, who had lost to Sania in straight sets in Tokyo two years ago, is ranked 12 places below the Indian. But the Japanese, world ranked 65, simply had to put the ball back in court to win points on Thursday, given how error-prone Sania was.

About the only thing that went right for Sania happened in the beginning as she broke serve for a 1-0 lead. From there the slide began, 26 unforced errors and sluggish on court movement contributing to a quick exit.

"There were times when I have had off days and found a way to win. But it did not happen today," said Sania. "I was so frustrated that I was trying to hit a winner off everything."

On the other hand...

It was very much an `on' day for the woman who Sania would have faced, had the Indian won on Thursday. Former World No.1 Martina Hingis, who Sania lost to in Kolkata last year but beat in Seoul a week later, raced to a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia.

Kim Clijsters, playing in her last Australian Open and the clear tournament favourite with the bookmakers, was equally impressive in her 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Akiko Morigami of Japan.

Later in the evening, Maria Sharapova, playing in conditions far more agreeable than during her dramatic first round match, raced past countrywoman Anastassia Rodionova 6-0, 6-3.

Lleyton Hewitt, who came into the tournament starved of match-practice before this event, he had played only two matches since the Davis Cup in September last year showed remarkable improvement from his first round form as he got past Frank Dancevic from Canada 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

Hewitt hit 14 aces on day when he struggled with his serves especially the second but his approach shots and volleys were exceptional. He dictated the points well from the baseline even as he undertook judicious sorties to the forecourt, winning 28 of 35 points there.

"I got on top of him early. I was able to play the big points well," said Hewitt, whose best run here was two years ago when he lost to Marat Safin in the final.

In the men's doubles competition, U.S. Open champions Leander Paes and Martin Damm made a confident start, beating the tough Serbian pair Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-3 in a first round match. Paes and Damm are seeded No. 5. The unseeded Mahesh Bhupathi and Radek Stepanek too advanced with a 6-1, 6-7(4), 6-4 over the French pairing of Sebastien Grosjean and Olivier Patience.

A few hours later, Sania Mirza, playing alongside Annabel Medina Garrigues of Spain, kept her doubles hopes alive as the pair, seeded 10th, defeated Sandra Klosel (Germany) and Aravane Rezai (France) 6-1, 6-4.

In a late men's singles match, second-seeded Rafael Nadal drew on all his reserve to defeat Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.

As competition enters the third round in singles, here are the latest odds from Betfair: Men: Roger Federer 1-2; Rafael Nadal 10-1; Andy Roddick 22-1; Andy Murray 26-1, James Blake 31-1. Women: Kim Clijsters 11-4; Maria Sharapova 4-1; Amelie Mauresmo 5-1; Jelena Jankovic 12-1.

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