Hingis hits her stride as big guns open fire

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The Independent Online

Since Anastasia Myskina won the title here two years ago eight consecutive Grand Slam tournaments have been won by different women. If that sequence is to continue, Roland Garros could witness one of the sporting stories of the year next Saturday.

When Martina Hingis returned to competition in January the consensus was that she would do well to get back into the world's top 20. A player who had been out for three years and did not have the physical attributes of most of the leading players would find it hard to live with the likes of Amélie Mauresmo, Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova.

Hingis's performances in the last five months have changed all that. No other player on the WTA tour can better her 33 victories this year and her tournament triumph in Rome a fortnight ago ­ her first since her return ­ suggested that the idea of her winning the title here was far from fanciful.

The 25-year-old Swiss needed only 49 minutes yesterday to dispose of the Czech Republic's Zuzana Ondraskova in a second-round match held over because of rain. Hingis won 6-1, 6-3 and, although it would be misleading to make assumptions on the basis of a victory over the world No 114, the performance underlined how confidently she is playing.

"I almost felt sorry for her," Hingis said. "It was almost like I couldn't miss. I served well, moved well, everything. It's all coming together again. I just hope it's going to continue like that."

The former world No 1 knows that complacency could be her greatest enemy. "Sometimes, when everything works, you think it's all going to come together, and you lose focus," she said.

Hingis, who insisted at the start of the tournament that it was fanciful to talk of her as a champion, should not have too many problems today against Croatia's Ivana Lisjak, but next week would be a different story. If she is to lift the only Grand Slam title that has eluded her, she may have to beat Elena Dementieva, Clijsters, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Mauresmo.

The other major contenders were in similarly impressive form. Mauresmo beat Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-3, Clijsters dropped only three games against Conchita Martinez Granados, Venus Williams won in straight sets against Karolina Sprem, who knocked her out of Wimbledon two years ago, and Svetlana Kuznetsova beat China's Na Li. Sharapova wobbled at the start of her second set against Alicia Molik before winning 6-0, 7-5.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the top two men's seeds, stayed on course to play their third final of the clay-court season. Federer needed four sets to beat Nicolas Massu after losing the third set tie-break, but Nadal bulldozed his way past Kevin Kim in straight sets. "It feels like you're in the Sahara ­ you just see the hills and there's no ending," Kim said after becoming the Spanish teenager's 55th successive victim on clay.

David Nalbandian, the No 3 seed, made a typically gutsy comeback from two sets down to beat Dmitry Tursunov, Tim Henman's conqueror in the previous round. The Argentine, deducted a point after throwing his racket in anger at the end of the second set, complained afterwards about the surface on Court Two. "It's a disaster," he said. "There's not a lot of dust and you slip all the time."

Nalbandian added: "He was playing wonderful tennis in the first two sets. Then he changed tactics, slicing the ball more, and that changed the match."

Spain's Nicolas Almagro had been tipped as a possible contender but lost in four sets to James Blake, who recovered from a set down overnight to reach the third round for the first time. Blake, the No 8 seed, is the only American left in the men's draw.

British interest in the senior competitions ended with two defeats in the men's doubles. Greg Rusedski, partnering the Czech Republic's Thomas Zib, lost 8-6 in the final set to Slovakia's Dominik Hrbaty and Michal Mertinak, while Andy Murray and James Auckland were beaten 6-1, 6-3 by the Bryan brothers, the world's No 1 doubles pair.

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