Tennis: Williams and Hewitt rise above their rankings

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The Independent Online
It was a day of surprises in the world of tennis yesterday with Venus Williams beating the world No 1, Martina Hingis, while no less sensational was 16-year-old Lleyton Hewitt's victory over the men's world No 4, Jonas Bjorkman. Tim Henman was another first-round victor in the Sydney International Tournament, beating Mark Woodforde.

Williams, No 21 in the world but intent on claiming Hingis' No 1 ranking this year, managed to expose some chinks in her fellow teenager's armour and then said: "She was more vulnerable this time. A lot of girls are stronger than her and some are faster than her. But all the time she plays smarter than the other girls."

The 17-year-old battled cramps in the hot conditions but Williams was too strong for Hingis, who appeared unfit and irritable in a 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 defeat. Hingis admitted she was not fit and had played passively in the final set, waiting for Williams to continue making the errors that had littered her earlier play.

"But it's not disappointing because now I have something to learn from... especially for Melbourne," she said, looking forward to next week's Australian Open.

Hingis acknowledged that her ranking could be captured by one of the up-and-coming new players on the circuit. "It's going to be a great year in that so many new players are coming up - and you can't forget the old ones," she said.

Hewitt, dubbed the Australian "Boy Wonder", survived a comeback by Bjorkman to win 6-3, 6-7, 6-4. The youngster, who climbed from No 550 to No 200 after winning his first ATP Tour title last week at the Australian Men's Hardcourt Championships, was 5-1 up in the final set before Bjorkman revived, but victory went to Hewitt on his fifth match point.

As stunning as Hewitt's performance was last week at Adelaide, where he beat Andre Agassi in the semi-final and Jason Stoltenberg in the final, the win over Bjorkman was perhaps even more impressive. Bjorkman, the highest-ranked player Hewitt has beaten, was coming off a strong second half of 1997, when he won three titles, reached the US Open semi-finals and helped Sweden win the Davis Cup.

Hewitt, the youngest man to win a title since Michael Chang in 1988, plays a baseline game similar to Bjorkman's. But on this day, Hewitt showed more flair and greater touch with perfect lobs and crafty approach shots. Bjorkman gave Hewitt no praise, saying: "It's tough to rate a guy when I'm not playing as well as I normally do. For the moment, anyone in the top 200 can beat me."

But Hewitt said: "I feel I'm hitting the ball unbelievably at the moment. I kept telling myself the pressure's on him. He's No 4 in the world."

Henman survived a test in launching his defence of the title with a 6- 2, 3-6, 6-4 first-round win over Woodforde. The sixth-seed captured the opening set only for his form to falter, allowing Woodforde back into the game in the second. But Henman regained his composure in the third set.