Svetlana Kuznetsova may be a former Grand Slam tournament winner but she admits she is still learning how to handle the sport that has made her famous.
The 20-year-old Russian, who cites her victory over compatriot Elena Dementieva in the 2004 US Open final as her proudest moment, now knows that experience counts for plenty in the competitive world of professional tennis.
The powerful Kuznetsova, one of the new breed of all-conquering Russian women that also includes Maria Sharapova and Anastasia Myskina, is representing her country in the US$725,000 Hopman Cup teams tennis tournament here.
The event is an integral part of the lead-up to the year's first Grand Slam, the Australian Open starting in Melbourne on January 16, which in turn is the key to helping her restore her singles ranking.
After starting 2005 ranked fifth, Kuznetsova slipped 13 places to 18 after a series of lackluster performances in the second half of the year.
But she opened the season in fine style, blitzing American Lisa Raymond 6-4, 6-1 in her first Hopman Cup singles rubber in a contest which lasted just 72 minutes. Kuznetsova said she was happy with the effort, but recognizes the task confronting her is difficult.
"It's been tough," she said of the year just gone. "There's a lot of pressure ... put by myself on me."
She said expectations had been high since her US Open win and she had to learn how to handle the pressure of being a top-flight player.
"I think it's been improving a lot and you have to stay tough all the time to be on the top level ... it's pretty hard."
Learning how to balance the demands of the circuit and training comes with experience, said Kuznetsova.
"When you're young it's hard to understand this. You have to .. know exactly how many tournaments you have to play and stuff," she said.
Despite, Kuznetsova's win over Raymond, the U.S prevailed over Russia at the Hopman Cup after Taylor Dent blitzed Yuri Schukin 6-2, 6-0, and Raymond and Dent teamed up to clinch the tie with a 6-4, 6-1 mixed doubles victory.
Dokic comeback misfires
Former world No 4 Jelena Dokic made a dismal start on the comeback trail in the Auckland Classic women's tournament yesterday, lasting less than two hours before being beaten by unseeded German Julia Schruff in the first round.
She blamed nerves for her 5-7, 7-6 (7/3), 6-1 defeat which included 50 unforced errors.
"I was very nervous and I was very tight and I think that contributed to the loss today," said the 22-year-old now ranked 376th.
"When I was up 6-5 in the second (set) and getting close to winning, I just got really nervous. I think that's just a lack of matches."
She also joked about her 28 double faults saying she was "getting close to (Anna) Kournikova."
Dokic served six consecutive faults at one point after an umpiring error led to two restarts.
Despite promising to enjoy her rekindled tennis career, the frustrations were clear as she left the court after giving up the third set in just 20 minutes.
"I was very scared of playing again because I haven't been in this position for a long time," Dokic said.
Philippoussis advances in Adelaide
Mark Philippoussis advanced to the second round of the Australian hardcourt championships in Adelaide with a 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory over Vince Spadea of the United States yesterday.
Fifth-seed James Blake also moved into the second round after a comfortable win over Spaniard Alberto Martin as did Croatia's Ivo Karlovic, who upset eighth-seed Juan Ignacio Chela, and German Florian Mayer who beat Argentina's Juan Monaco 6-2, 6-4.
Britain's rising talent Andy Murray also advanced with a 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 victory over Italian qualifier Paolo Lorenzi, while top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt beat Jan Hernych 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Philippoussis, a former U.S. Open and Wimbledon finalist who is now ranked 172nd, managed to overcome three service breaks in the second set to beat the 75th-ranked Spadea.
"I'm very happy, a win is a win no matter how you look at it," Philippoussis told reporters. "The first match is always going to be tough, it's just good to get back out on the court and get that monkey off my shoulders."
French teen hope blows gasket
Richard Gasquet, the outstandingly gifted 19-year-old who has been billed a potential challenger to Roger Federer's crown, began 2006 with a shock defeat here on Monday.
The world number 17 from France lost 6-4, 6-4 in the first round of the Qatar Open to Tim Henman, who had been written off by some of his harsher British critics after the worst season of his career in 2005.
Gasquet made a fair number of spectacular passes with his celebrated backhand and had several moments when it seemed he might take control of the match.
But he was faced by an opponent who played his best tennis for more than 14 months, and looked to have at least partially rehabilitated himself from a degenerative back condition.
Henman also contained Gasquet's best weapons with slice and cunningly masked net approaches.
"It's difficult to play against him: he's a great player," Gasquet said of the former world number four.
"But I haven't played for a long time and it was a difficult match for me.