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Hewitt claws Australia into contention against Romania


Perth : Lleyton Hewitt returned to tennis after a break of two-and-a-half months, producing a fighting 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) defeat of Victor Hanescu to pull top seed Australia level at 1-1 with Romania Saturday’s opening day of the Hopman Cup.

The 28-year-old former number one, now ranked 22nd, put on his hero performance at the Burswood Dome as he began his fifth appearance at the international mixed competition featuring men’s and women’s singles and a mixed doubles rubber.

The victory in two and a half hours kept host Australia alive with a deciding mixed doubles to come.

Romania jumped out to a surprise 1-0 lead through teenaged Sorana Cirstea, who defeated world number 13 Samantha Stosur 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Hewitt managed to seal his victory after last playing in mid-October in Shanghai.

The Australian is counting on a comeback season in 2010 as he bids to return to the ATP elite. “I’m looking for top 10 at some stage this year,” said the 28-year-old. “But this month, the Australian Open is the main goal obviously.”

Hewitt lost the first set against Hanescu, the number 48 who suffered with cramps in the closing stages of the contest – at one point serving underhanded in desperation.

“I haven’t seen that since the Under-10s,” said a bemused Hewitt. “It was fairly unusual.”

The protesting Hanescu was denied treatment due to a rule change on the ATP from January 1 which bars treatment for cramping during a match.

Hewitt gave his nation a fighting chance as the hosts bid for a second title in the event’s 22nd edition. Mark Philippoussis and Jelena Dokic claimed the only home title in 1999.

Hewitt lost a break in the final set but fought through into the tiebreaker, where he dominated the fading European.

“I hadn’t played for nearly three months,” said the winner. “The first match of the year is always tough. Victor likes to dictate from the back of the court and serves close to the line. It was hard to get a rhythm.

“But I got better as the match went on, I’m glad it went to three sets. I had to hang in an mix it up. I served better later in the match and I was able to put more pressure on his serve.

Cirstea, whose highest ranking was 23rd last season, currently stands 45th with hopes of improvement.

“It’s the first match of the year and to be honest I didn’t really know what to expect,” said the 19-year-old who had lost to Stosur in two previous matches without winning a set.

“I was playing in front of an Australian crowd and I told myself I just have to go out there and enjoy it. It got better and better and the crowd got better and kept me motivated.

“She was serving unbelievable; for me the main focus was to make one break and hold my serve.”