Shahar storms into 2nd round Down Under

Sela makes early exit with opening loss to Del Potro; Nalbandian ousts Hewitt in marathon.

Peer Australian Open 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Peer Australian Open 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Shahar Pe’er lost just two games on her way to the second round of the Australian Open on Tuesday, while Dudi Sela was knocked out in the first round of a Grand Slam event for the fifth time in his last six attempts.
Pe’er, ranked No. 12 in the world and seeded 10th in Melbourne, needed just 62 minutes to defeat Mathilde Johansson (103) 6-1, 6-1, hitting 25 winners compared to six by her French opponent.
Next up for Pe’er is a second- round meeting with Romanian Sorana Cirstea (94), who hasn’t been passed the second round of a Grand Slam tournament since 2009, but did reach the quarterfinals at Roland Garros two years ago.
Sela (92) is still searching for his first win of 2011 after falling 7-6 (13), 6-4, 6-4 to Juan Martin Del Potro in the first round in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Sela held five set points in the first set tiebreak, but failed to convert them and Del Potro took the crucial opener after launching a hard forehand winner into the corner.
Del Potro, who was ranked as high as No. 4 in the world a year ago after winning the US Open in 2009, was in control after that and wrapped up the win in two hours and 39 minutes.
It was Del Potro’s first tourlevel victory since the third round of last year’s Aussie Open, with the Argentine dropping to his current ranking of 236 after an injury ridden 2010.
“I played quite well, but Del Potro was much better,” said Sela, who fell to 0-3 on the season after losing in the first round in Brisbane before being knocked out in the first round of qualifiers in Sydney.
“I had a lot of chances but I couldn’t convert them. I hope I can play at this level throughout the year and get back into the top-50.”
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal advanced to the second round without losing a game on Tuesday when Marcus Daniel was forced to retire from the first-round match while trailing 6-0, 5-0.
“If you see all the top five guys, they improve so much,” said Daniel, who has also lost to Federer. “They are one step forward, faster than the others, they hit the ball harder than the others, they can stay very focused for four hours, different than the others.
Imagine Federer and Nadal, they are the same.”
Nadal will next play American qualifier Ryan Sweeting, who beat Daniel Gimeno 6-4, 6-4, 6-1.
Another of those top five that Daniel mentioned was Andy Murray, the 2010 finalist who also advanced when Karol Beck retired with a shoulder injury in the third set of their first-round match.
The fifth-seeded Murray, who was leading 6-3, 6-1, 4-2, was the only man to beat Nadal in a Grand Slam tournament last year, in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.
“You’d rather finish the match off without your opponent being hurt,” Murray said, “but it does happen quite a lot. So you just have to move on and get yourself ready for the next round.”
Fourth-seeded Robin Soderling had to go the distance but was rarely challenged, completing a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win over Potito Starace of Italy.
In the match of the day, David Nalbandian of Argentina beat former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (1), 9-7 in a featurelength replay of their 2002 Wimbledon final won by the Australian.
Going into Tuesday’s match, Hewitt led the series 3-2 but had not beaten Nalbandian since a controversial 2005 Australian Open quarterfinal in which the pair bumped into each other purposely on a changeover.
The video clips of that altercation featured prominently on television promotions of the night match at Rod Laver Arena.
After the 2005 match, won in five sets by Hewitt, Nalbandian said he was “not a gentleman’” and “nobody is friends” with the Australian.
Hewitt said Nalbandian was “not the cleanest guy.”
There appeared to be no such animosity Tuesday, with both players mostly on their best behavior. They shook hands and nodded at each other at the end of the 4- hour, 48-minute match.
Hewitt’s biggest stumbling block was his inability to convert break-point chances: just seven of 30. Nalbandian was six of 12, but only two of eight in the final set.
Nalbandian, who was cramping at the end of the marathon match, saved two match points on his serve before finishing it at 1:10 a.m. local time Wednesday with a perfect lob on his first match point.
“It doesn’t matter that we are tired, we keep fighting,” Nalbandian said on-court of their rivalry. “I can’t talk, I am so tired.”
On the women’s side, US Open champion Kim Clijsters did nothing to dent her growing status as tournament favorite by routing fellow former No. 1 Dinara Safina 6-0, 6-0.
“I expect my opponent to come out and play their best tennis,” Clijsters said. “She obviously didn’t do that today.”
Safina was less polite toward herself.
“I was sitting in the changeover, and I was like, ‘OK, at least how can I get a chance to hurt her?’” Safina said. “There was nothing that I could do to hurt her. Embarrassing.”
No. 2-ranked Vera Zvonareva began her bid to reach a third consecutive Grand Slam women’s final with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Sybille Bammer.
Zvonareva lost to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final and to Clijsters in the US Open final last year.