Serena Williams rebounds, Hewitt returns to form

Serena Williams brushed aside fears about her form after an emphatic win over Italy's Sara Errani at the Sydney International. Over in the men's, home favourite Lleyton Hewitt did the same with a confident dismissal of France's Julien Benneteau.


REUTERS - Serena Williams rebounded from her shaky start to the year with an awesome demonstration of her Australian Open intent at the Sydney International on Tuesday.

The world number two showed no signs of rustiness in her scrappy first-round win over Samantha Stosur as she demolished Italy's Sara Errani 6-1 6-2.

The American belted nine aces past her bewildered opponent in an ominous warning to her rivals ahead of next week's first grand slam of the season.

"I played a little better today but I can still improve on some things and that's what I want to do," she told a news conference. "I don't want to peak too soon, I just want to stay level for the whole season."

The powerful Russian contingent also flexed their muscles, with Dinara Safina, Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova all advancing to Wednesday's quarter-finals.

World number three Safina was ruthless in her 6-3 6-0 win over fellow Russian Vera Dushevina while Kuznetsova showed her determination to get out of a tight corner in her 6-2 2-6 7-6 victory over Estonia's Kaia Kanepi.

Dementieva, who won last week's Auckland Classic in New Zealand, chalked up her seventh straight win this year in defeating Slovakia's Jarmila Gajdosova 6-2 6-4.

"I think it's very important to play a couple tournaments before the grand slam just to get used to the game and get good confidence," said Dementieva, who is yet to win a major but took Olympic gold in Beijing last year.

Early surprises

With the top four seeds, headed by reigning Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, all given byes into the second round, Tuesday's men's matches contained plenty of surprises.

Last year's champion, Russian Dmitry Tursunov was bundled out by Richard Gasquet of France 7-6 6-4 while last week's Brisbane International winner, Czech Radek Stepanek retired in the second set against France's Jeremy Chardy while trailing 6-4 3-0.

"I felt ok this morning but after about four games into the match I started to feel unwell and then it started affecting the way I was playing," Stepanek said. "After such a great week in Brisbane last week...I am really disappointed."

Sixth seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic struggled to contain the booming serve of Australian Chris Guccione, a finalist in Sydney last year, as he suffered a 6-3 6-4 defeat.

Eighth-seeded American Mardy Fish fell to Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic while Lleyton Hewitt, a four-time title winner in Sydney, defeated Julien Benneteau of France 5-7 6-2 6-4.

Australian Hewitt started his comeback last week after hip surgery and said he was slowly growing in confidence.

"I would have liked to have won in straight (sets) today but that's probably the number one positive to come out of winning a three set match," Hewitt said.

"You're going to have to win at least three sets to win any match in Melbourne. You've got to be prepared to do that, and fit and strong enough to do that."

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