San Jose, 9 February 2011 | AFP
Lleyton Hewitt advanced to the second round of the ATP event in San Jose, California, with a straight-sets win over German Bjorn Phau.
Hewitt, who won the tournament in 2002 and finished runner-up to Andy Murray four years later, has dropped to no.70 in the ATP world rankings after losing to David Nalbandian in the opening round of the Australian Open last month.
The seventh-seeded Hewitt won 6-3 6-3 while fifth-seeded Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan snapped a three-match losing streak with a 6-3 7-5 win over tour newcomer Roman Bornanov from Moldova.
Istomin reached the semifinals in his San Jose debut last year, falling to eventual champion Fernando Verdasco.
Former world no.4 James Blake opened his 2011 campaign with a victory, downing qualifier Jesse Levine 7-5 6-1.
Levine took the first break to go up 5-4, but managed to win just one more game the remainder of the match as Blake converted four of his 11 break point chances.
Blake, who fell out of the top 100 after battling knee and shoulder injuries last season, said he hoped the problems were behind him.
“The main goal right now is to stay healthy and to keep doing everything I need to, to keep the body right and then go out there and see how I can perform if I’m healthy,” he said.
In other matches, American Donald Young defeated German Dustin Brown 7-6(2) 6-4, Michael Russell edged fellow American Alex Kuznetsov 6-4 6-2 and wildcard Tim Smyczek defeated Colombian Robert Farah 7-5 3-6 6-3.
The opening night of the tournament featured an exhibition match in which France’s Gael Monfils defeated 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras 7-6(4) 6-4.
Monfils emerged the winner in a lighthearted contest, taking a camera from a photographer to snap Sampras at one point.
Sampras, 39, was appearing in an exhibition here for the fourth straight year. He displayed his serve-and-volley skills while bantering with the crowd.
“Physically, that’s the most I’ve served and volleyed in the last seven years,” Sampras said.
“Not easy. Gael is a great mover, returns well and made me work really hard on my service game. All in all, I’m very happy with the way I played.”
The exhibition marked Monfils’ debut at the San Jose tournament. He will no doubt be hoping his first appearance will follow the pattern of Verdasco’s last season, when the Spaniard followed up an exhibition win over Sampras by winning the title.