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Federer, Henin are top seeds Down Under

Federer, Henin are top seeds Down Under

Federer, Henin are top seeds Down Under
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Roger Federer and Justine Henin took the No. 1 seeds atop the Australian Open on Thursday.

As usual at the season's first major event, the top 32 players have been seeded according to their world rankings.

Spain's Rafael Nadal is second, followed by Serbia's Novak Djokovic on the men's side. Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova was No. 2 among the women, ahead of Serbians pair Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic and Russia's Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova was seeded No. 1 last year when she lost the final to Serena Williams, who was unseeded and ranked No. 81 before her stunning comeback to win an eighth Grand Slam singles title.

Serena Williams was seeded seventh this year, one spot above sister Venus Williams, who missed last year's Australian Open.

Federer is aiming to become the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian Open singles titles.

He has reached the final of all four Grand Slams in the last two seasons, losing only on both trips to Roland Garros to Nadal.

Federer missed his regular Australian Open tuneup at Kooyong this week because of a stomach virus, but expects to be ready when the Open starts Monday.

The draws contain the top 32 ranked women and 30 of the top 32 men. Tommy Haas of Germany and Argentina's Guillermo Canas have withdrawn with shoulder and wrist injuries.

The draw for the Australian Open will be made Friday.

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Re: Federer, Henin are top seeds Down Under

Australian Open Odds and Betting Analysis
Christopher G. Shepard

Sports investment powerhouse has released their 2008 Australian Open Odds and, not surprisingly, Roger Federer is the favorite to win for the men's side and Justine Henin is the favorite to win for the women's side as tennis' Grand Slam season begins at Melbourne Park from Jan. 14-28.

Despite pulling out of the Australian Open exhibition tune-up, the Kooyang Classic, due to a stomach virus last week, Federer likes his chances to win his third consecutive Australian Open title and 13th Grand Slam title overall. A win at Melbourne would put the consistent Swiss one slam behind Pete Sampras, who he beat in a three-match exhibition 2-1 late last year. Federer beat Sampras 6-4, 6-3 in Seoul and edged the American 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) in Kuala Lumpur, but lost to Sampras in Macao 7-6 (8), 6-4.

If you are planning on investing down under keep in mind that the tournament will actually start on Jan. 13 in the United States so if you are looking to play the futures tennis market of individual matches remember to play them a day earlier than the date posted on the Australian Open Web site.

Who will win the Men's 2008 Australian Open?

Australian Open odds have Federer as the 4/9 favorite and he has made handicapping the men's Grand Slams relatively easy as long as they weren't located in France. The last player to win the Men's title other than Federer was Marat Safin in 2005. Federer won his first Australian Open in 2004 and before him Andre Agassi won three titles. With Agassi long since retired and Marat Safin in the twilight of his career, is there anyone who can beat Federer on a surface other than clay? It is likely that at some point Federer will lose his stranglehold on the Slams, but probably not this year at Melbourne Park.

The next odds on favorites to win this Slam are David Nalbandian, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, all set at 8/1. Certainly it has been a frustrating three years for Rafa who has finished in the No. 2 spot behind his nemesis Roger Federer. Certainly the hard-serving Nalbandian is always a threat to win a title, as is Nadal, but somehow whenever an opponent raises their game against Federer he finds another level of super-human tennis excellence and records another win.

One only has to look back to last year's US Open Final when Federer played a tough match against the rapidly rising Serb who had beaten Federer earlier that month in a three-set US Open series match. At the US Open Djokovic gave Federer his all, pushing the first two sets to tiebreakers; both of which Federer won and then he won the third set, 6-4, in a match that was closer than the straight sets victory appeared. Keep in mind that Djokovic held five set points against the great Swiss in the first set and another two in the second but was unable to overcome his nerves at center court to beat Federer.

But Imagine that you are Djokovic and won 5 ATP titles last year, recorded a 19-4 record in the Grand Slams only losing to Federer and No.2 Rafael Nadal, to move to No. 3 in the world and to know that if you are to make the finals in Australia you'll need to get by Federer in the semi-finals. All that hard work for naught! Not that I am saying Djokovic will lose to Federer in the semi-finals, but I am not saying he'll beat him either.

As for Rafael "Rafa" Nadal, the current No. 2 player in the world, he is coming off a terrible, 57-minute, 6-0, 6-1 loss in the final of the season opener at Chennai, India to Mikhail Youzhny. Of course tennis observers consider the loss an anomaly since his previous match to Carlos Moya in the semi-finals was a record 3 hours and 54 minute three-setter that was the longest three-set match in 15 years on the ATP. Regardless, the loss showed a few weaknesses in Nadal's game. Long considered as one of the most in-shape tennis players on the circuit, Nadal's tennis look features bulging bicep's and manpris. He seems most at home during long, hard-hitting points on the red clay of Rolland Garros. So his loss in the final was a bit surprising. He'll no doubt recover in time for the Australian Open but he already starts the year at 0-1 in titles and will have a tough draw to get to Roger Federer in the final.

Looking at the rest of the field it is very difficult to see anyone else with a chance to contend for the title. Looking down the list we see how far once promising stars have fallen as Aussie Lleyton Hewitt is set at 30/1. He always seems to run into a few grueling five setters that he just manages to win and then he falls to stouter competition. Not long ago it was Andy Roddick, set at 25/1 to win, who was the second favorite to Federer, but even changing coaches and employing the great Jimmy Connors as his coach has done nothing to help Roddick win a Slam. Certainly he has come close but either he chokes under the pressure or runs into some guy from Switzerland that he has never been able to beat on an international stage as huge as the Grand Slams.

One of the most entertaining tennis players on the circuit, and not necessarily for his tennis, but his enormous Cypriot contingent that he manages to find on every continent he plays, is Mario Baghdatis who is set at 50/1. He is sort of like the Jacksonville Jaguars in this year's NFL playoffs; the team that nobody wants to play. Another player worth looking at is Nicolay Davydenko, No. 4 in the world rankings, and perhaps now best known for losing a match he shouldn't have and being accused of match fixing - he is the current scourge in the tennis world today. So why is the No. 4 in the world at 60/1 odds at the Australian Open and the No. 10 in the world, David Nalbandian, set at 8/1? Because Roger Federer is going to win the Aussie Open. It's a no brainer.

Pick! Novak Djokovic 8-1
Hedge! Roger Federer 4/9

Odds to win the 2008 Men's Australian Open

Roger Federer 4 - 9
Novak Djokovic 8 - 1
David Nalbandian 8 - 1
Rafael Nadal 8 - 1
Field (Any Other Player) 10 - 1
Andy Murray 20 - 1
David Ferrer 25 - 1
Andy Roddick 25 - 1
Lleyton Hewitt 30 - 1
Marcos Baghdatis 50 - 1
Fernando Gonzalez 50 - 1
Nikolay Davydenko 60 - 1
Mario Ancic 60 - 1
Richard Gasquet 80 - 1
Marat Safin 100 - 1
Mikhail Youzhny 100 - 1
Ivo Karlovic 100 - 1
James Blake 100 - 1
Tomas Berdych 100 - 1
Tommy Haas 100 - 1

Who will win the Women's 2008 Australian Open?

With her divorce, a hard to pronounce hyphenate, and nagging injuries apparently put behind her, the 25-year-old Justine Henin seeks to win the Australian Open for the second time since 2004. It is to believe that the No. 1 women's tennis player and winner of 5.4 million dollars in 2007 will not win in Melbourne this year. She is clearly the woman to beat as the oddsmakers have set her as the 5/4 favorite. It has been two years since she played in Melbourne when she retired due to injury in the 2006 Australian Open and last year she opted out for personal reasons. Since then, though, Henin has been on a tear winning the French Open and the US Open and finishing the year as the WTA No. 1 player.

This week Henin played her first match since last November in the Sydney International and crushed her competition in straight sets, barely working up a sweat over Estonian Kaia Kanepi. Moreover, this win was her 26th-straight and her 42nd in her last 43 matches since winning the French Open. Her only loss was at Wimbledon last year. Can anyone beat the Belgian at Melbourne? Maybe, as the women's field has four former champions (not including Henin) in the Williams sisters - Venus and defending champion Serena - Amelie Mauresmo and Lindsay Davenport.

Last year's runner up, Maria Sharapova, is set as the second favorite at 5/1and will look to improve on her embarrassing, inexplicable meltdown loss in the women's final last year to Serena Williams. Sharapova breezed through her draw last time only to be dominated by Serena who apparently can only win the Australian Open on odd numbered years as Williams has won the event in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Sharapova looked like she is in top form, beating rising star Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-2 on Wednesday to advance to the semifinals of the JB Group Classic exhibition tournament. However, in the finals she once again was defeated by a Williams in straight sets, only this time it was Venus rather than Serena. I think we'll see another let down for Sharapova in Melbourne this year.

Granted the hottest player in women's tennis is the flaxen-locked Maria Sharapova with her model looks and tight body, but when it comes to serving up actual wins that sobriquet goes to the 2000 Australian Open winner, 31-year-old Lindsey Davenport, who, after her 11 month "retirement" to have her first child, has taken the WTA by storm notching an amazing 18-1 singles record and she has won three out of her last four tennis titles.

However, Davenport will likely face the stiffest competition that she has seen since she returned to the circuit last year as this year's edition of the Australian Open Women's Draw features 108 direct acceptances and also has its lowest ranking cutoff ever at 108, which includes Russian Evgenia Linetskaya, who has an injury-protected ranking of 92.

On Dec. 31, Davenport breezed through and won the ASB final in 66 minutes in Auckland New Zealand and improved her singles winning percentage to 79.4 percent, which is the best winning percentage ever in women's tennis. For those looking for a live longshot Davenport has been installed at 20-1 and is playing at a higher level than her deceptive world ranking of 61.

Other realistic title challengers include last year's US Open runner-up, No. 2 ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova. However, she'll have to play with confidence throughout the fortnight and not get distracted by bad calls and double-faults. I do think the 22-year-old Russian Kuznetsova's ranking is misleading and she will ultimately fall this year, perhaps out of the top-10.

Meanwhile, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, both set at 8/1 to win the Open, put Serbia on the tennis map when they shot up the world rankings last year and have shown that they can be a force to be reckoned with if the conditions are right and they are playing at the top of their games; which they will have to do if they hope to beat Henin this year.

Of course, you can't handicap women's tennis and not give both William's sisters a nod to win any Slam that they enter. Serena is set at 13/2 while her sister Venus, fresh off her victory over Sharapova at the JB Classic Exhibition in Honk Kong, is 10/1; the same odds as the field. Notorious for their odd training regimens and flights of attention span during crucial moments in tennis matches, the sisters are always in the mix to win.

However, as I stated before Serena only wins every other year and Venus always looks like she could care less if she wins or loses a match. But then you only have to look at recent Grand Slam history to see that one of the Williams sisters has won at least one Grand Slam tournament in seven out of the last nine years and multiple titles in six of those seasons, including four straight from 2000 to 2003. Keep in mind that before the Australian Open last year the New York Times wrote a cover piece on why Serena would not, could not win in Australia; she was out of shape, she'd lost her killer instinct and her best days of tennis had passed her by. So Serena went out and did what she does best and won the whole damned thing.

Pick! Lindsey Davenport (20/1)
Hedge! Justine Henin (5/4)

Odds to win the 2008 Women's Australian Open
Justine Henin 5 - 4
Maria Sharapova 5 - 1
Serena Williams 13 - 2
zx Field (Any Other Player) 10 - 1
Venus Williams 10 - 1
Jelena Jankovic 12 - 1
Ana Ivanovic 12 - 1
Amelie Mauresmo 15 - 1
Nicole Vaidisova 15 - 1
Lindsay Davenport 20 - 1
Svetlana Kuznetsova 20 - 1
Anna Chakvetadze 30 - 1
Nadia Petrova 50 - 1
Agnes Szavay 50 - 1
Tatiana Golovin 60 - 1
Elena Dementieva 60 - 1
Shahar Peer 80 - 1
Marion Bartoli 80 - 1
Daniela Hantuchova 100 - 1
Agnieszka Radwanska 100 - 1

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Nadal, Roddick advance; Murray exits Aussie Open on Day 1

Melbourne, Australia (Sports Network) - Second-seeded Spaniard Rafael Nadal and sixth-seeded American Andy Roddick advanced to the second round at the Australian Open with straight-set wins on a relatively quiet opening day in the men's bracket in Melbourne.

The reigning three-time French Open champion and two-time Wimbledon runner-up Nadal was tested in the first two sets before getting past Serbian Viktor Troicki 7-6 (7-3), 7-5, 6-1 in Monday's nightcap at Melbourne Park.

Nadal's second-round opponent will be Frenchman Florent Serra, a 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-5) winner against German Florian Mayer.

Roddick -- who has never lost in the first round of this Grand Slam event, but never advanced past the semifinal round here -- beat Czech qualifier Lukas Dlouhy 6-3, 6-4, 7-5. The former world No. 1 Roddick will next encounter German Michael Berrer, a four-set victor over American Donald Young.

Fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko of Russia beat Frenchman Michael Llodra 7-5, 7-5, 6-3 to setup a second-rounder against another Frenchman, Nicolas Mahut. Davydenko has been a quarterfinalist here three years running.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, from France, pulled off an upset of ninth-seeded Brit Andy Murray, 7-5, 6-4, 0-6, 7-6 (7-5). On the deciding point of the fourth-set tiebreak, Murray struck a shot just wide left to end the match, and whacked a ball into the stands in frustration.

Murray advanced to the fourth round here last year, while Tsonga lost in the first round in his only previous Aussie Open appearance.

Eighth-seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet got past Aussie Nick Lindahl 6-0, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2, while 11th seed Tommy Robredo also advanced, though he had to come back from being two sets down to German Mischa Zverev. Robredo, from Spain, won the third set in a tiebreak, then won the final two sets to take the match 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 7-5.

Robredo will face American Mardy Fish in the second round. Both players reached the quarterfinal round of last year's Australian Open. Fish beat Serbian Boris Pashanski in four sets here on Monday.

Former Aussie Open runner-up Carlos Moya suffered an opening-day setback, as the 1997 finalist succumbed to gritty Austrian Stefan Koubek 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (2-7), 7-5, 6-4. The former world No. 1 Moya was seeded 16th here.

Fourteenth-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny rolled past France's Mathieu Montcourt 6-0, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), while Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez took out 18th-seeded Argentine slugger Juan Ignacio Chela 6-4, 6-2, 1-6, 6-2.

Two other seeded players, No. 24 Finn and No. 28 Frenchman Gilles Simon, needed the full five sets to get by their opponents, as Nieminen snuck past Canadian Frank Dancevic, while Simon slipped past American Bobby Reynolds.

Other seeds to advance were No. 20 Ivo Karlovic from Croatia, No. 23 Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu, No. 26 Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, No. 29 German Philipp Kohlschreiber and No. 31 Russian Igor Andreev. Kohlschreiber is fresh off his title last week in Auckland.

Several other non-seeds advanced on Day 1, including Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, Americans Sam Warburg and Jesse Levine, Argentine Agustin Calleri and 2003 Aussie Open runner-up Rainer Schuettler of Germany.

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Bettors target women's tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Several players on the women's tennis tour have been approached to fix matches or provide inside information sought by gamblers, the head of the tour said Monday, echoing disclosures of similar overtures made to male players.

"Less than 10" women have been approached, said Larry Scott, WTA Tour chairman and chief executive. However, he acknowledged that the full extent of the problem might not be known.

"I'm not sure I know all the ways players have been approached. I also wouldn't suggest that's the extent of it. I believe there are people who have been approached who have not come forward," Scott said as the Australian Open got underway here.

"But we learned enough, let me put it this way, the first half of 2007 to become much more concerned and spring into a new level of action."

Scott says he believes the sport will end up spending as much on this issue as it does in anti-doping efforts. Two former British police officers, Jeffrey Rees and Ben Gunn, are here conducting interviews and coordinating the effort behind the newly formed Tennis Integrity Unit.

The revelations grew out of an obscure tournament in Poland in August. Nikolay Davydenko of Russia retired early in the third set of a match against Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina, citing injury. That prompted the British Internet bookmaker Betfair to void all wagers after suspicious betting patterns surfaced.

Davydenko remains under investigation by the Assn. of Tennis Professionals.

The issue came into sharper focus later last summer when doubles star Bob Bryan told The Times in Montreal that tour players received anonymous phone calls, asking them to manipulate the outcome of matches.

Following that, there was a steady procession of players coming forward to say they had been offered money to fix matches.

Even a coach, Larry Stefanki, said he was pushed for inside information about another competitor at the 2007 Australian Open.

Arguello, who lost here Monday in the first round, harshly criticized the tour's new integrity policies.

He said he resented the fact he could be put in the position of being forced to inform on his colleagues, calling it "political terrorism."

"Now, there's like a new rule in that one has to be constantly policing, pushing away everyone that gets near you asking you something suspicious, or just how you're doing, or if they say: 'Martin, how are you? Will you win today?' " he said in Spanish at a post-match news conference.

"For this reason, you have to keep your distance because some people are just trying to get information from you.

"There's a ton of things that aren't clear or have little meaning. If you know there's a player who has been talking to someone about something odd, you have let people know. It's crazy."

As for the WTA, Scott does not think his tour has "an integrity problem."

But he took it upon himself to warn players Saturday at their pre-tournament meeting of "death-penalty" -- career-ending -- sanctions if they or those around them were implicated.

"I don't think we can stop gambling," he said. "Unfortunately, that's life. . . . I do think there is a severe risk because the amount of gambling happening and the number of approaches. That's what we're addressing before it becomes a problem."

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Federer, Djokovic, Hewitt advance in Melbourne
January 15th, 2008

Melbourne, Australia (Sports Network) - Two-time defending champion Roger Federer, U.S. Open runner-up Novak Djokovic and 2005 Melbourne finalist Lleyton Hewitt were among the Day-2 first-round winners at the Australian Open.

The top-seeded/world No. 1 Federer dismantled helpless Argentine Diego Hartfield 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 in a mere 74 minutes in his 2008 season debut. The super Swiss has now won his last 15 matches at the Aussie Open, including a title match victory over Chilean Fernando Gonzalez here last year.

The 26-year-old Federer is the reigning Aussie Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion and seeking his 13th career Grand Slam singles title.

Federer's second-round opponent on Thursday will be crafty French veteran Fabrice Santoro.

A third-seeded Djokovic, meanwhile, handled German Benjamin Becker 6-0, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5), while a 19th-seeded Hewitt humbled Belgian Steve Darcis 6-0, 6-3, 6-0. Djokovic was last year's U.S. Open runner-up to the mighty Federer, while the former world No. 1 and two-time major titlist Hewitt reached the final here at Melbourne Park three years ago, losing to big Russian Marat Safin.

An unseeded Safin won here on Tuesday, as did the aforementioned Gonzalez. The seventh-seeded Gonzalez got past Greek Konstantinos Economidis 6-4, 7-6 (7-2), 6-1, while the former top-ranked and two-time Grand Slam singles champion Safin topped Latvian Ernests Gulbis 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2). The always-dangerous Safin defeated Hewitt in the 2005 finale here and is also a two-time Aussie Open runner-up.

In other top-10 action on Day 2, fifth-seeded Spaniard David Ferrer blew past France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 and No. 10 Argentine David Nalbandian dismissed Aussie Robert Smeets 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).

Twelfth-seeded American James Blake blitzed Chilean Olympic gold medalist Nicolas Massu 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, while 13th-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych erased Austrian Werner Eschauer 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 and 15h-seeded Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis held off 2002 Aussie Open champion Thomas Johansson of Sweden 7-6 (7-0), 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. Baghdatis was the 2006 Melbourne runner-up to Federer.

An upset came when Dutchman Robin Haase took out 17th-seeded Croat Ivan Ljubicic 6-7 (2-7), 6-3, 6-0, 7-6 (7-1).

Former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, seeded 22nd here, avoided an upset by drilling German Nicolas Kiefer 6-4, 6-3, 6-1, while mild upsets occurred when Croat Marin Cilic toppled 27th-seeded Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, 6-2 and American Vincent Spadea came all the way back to bump 30th-seeded Czech Radek Stepanek 2-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-3.

Other seeded winners were No. 21 Argentine Juan Monaco, No. 25 Spaniard Fernando Verdasco and No. 32 Russian Dmitry Tursunov, who is fresh off his title last week in Sydney.

Several other men reached the second round, including Frenchmen Santoro and Sebastien Grosjean, Americans Sam Querrey, Amer Delic and Michael Russell, and Aussies Peter Luczak and Alun Jones. Santoro drubbed 6-foot-9 American John Isner 6-2, 6-2, 6-4, while Querrey thumped Belgian Olivier Rochus 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.

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Nadal, Davydenko, Roddick reach third round at Oz Open
January 16th, 2008

Melbourne, Australia (Sports Network) - French Open champion Rafael Nadal, fourth-seeded Russian Nikolay Davydenko and former world No. 1 Andy Roddick were among Wednesday's second-round winners on the men's side at the 2008 Australian Open.

The second-seeded Nadal charged past France's Florent Serra 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 at Melbourne Park.

Nadal's third-round opponent will be 28th-seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon.

Davydenko drubbed Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-0, 6-3, while a sixth-seeded Roddick reached the Aussie Open third round for a sixth straight year with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 decision over German lefthander Michael Berrer on the all-new Plexicushion surface here.

Up next for Davydenko will be Frenchman Marc Gicquel, while Roddick will battle another German, 29th-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Eighth-seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet whipped Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 6-1, 6-3, while an upset came when American slugger Mardy Fish doused 11th- seeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo 6-1, 6-2, 6-3. Fish was a quarterfinalist here a year ago, losing to his good friend Roddick in the round of eight.

Fourteenth-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny got past Italian Andreas Seppi 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4); 20th-seeded Croat Ivo Karlovic overcame Israeli Dudi Sela 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-3, 6-1; 23rd-seeded Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu came back to beat Chilean Paul Capdeville 6-7 (5-7), 6-0, 6-4, 6-4; and 24th-seeded Finn Jarkko Nieminen dropped American Jesse Levine 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 (7-2).

A mild upset came when Gicquel took out 26th-seeded Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 2-1, retired.

Other seeded winners on Day 3 were Simon, Kohlschreiber and No. 31 Russian Igor Andreev. Simon subdued 2003 Aussie Open runner-up Rainer Schuettler of Germany 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. The capable Kohlschreiber is fresh off his title in Auckland.

Additional second-round winners were non-seeds Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and gritty Austrian Stefan Koubek.

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