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MELBOURNE, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 18 - If you had awakened from a four-year snooze and wandered along the banks of the Yarra River to the Australian Open on Tuesday night, you could have easily thought that you had taken nothing more than a siesta.

There, on her favorite court, was Martina Hingis playing a first-round match, having her way with a less-consistent, less-resourceful woman, mixing speeds and spins, flashing an occasional cryptic grin and reading the flow of play with a practiced grace.

But for those who have been keeping their eyes on the ball lately, a double-take or two was in order. This was Hingis's first match in a Grand Slam event since 2002. She had not played at the Australian Open since she reached her sixth consecutive final here that same year, yet the player who looked out of sync was her opponent, 30th-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia.

Hingis will certainly have bigger obstacles in her path as she continues her comeback, but there was certainly no arguing with the precise and elegant way she disposed of Zvonareva, 6-1, 6-2.

The match at Rod Laver Arena started later than expected because third-seeded Lleyton Hewitt of Australia needed to stage one of his now traditional rallies here, defeating Robin Vik of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 2-6, 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

Hingis required little more than an hour to finish off Zvonareva. And there was nothing cryptic about her smile afterward, when she explained to fans, then to reporters, how it felt to walk off the court a winner again.

"It seemed like it was a long time ago, like a lot of things have happened to me," said Hingis, who won the Open in 1997, '98 and '99. "Walking back on the stage where you've been so successful, it's a lot of pressure on you."

She added, "Tonight it worked, and all I can say is it feels great to be back out there."

Hingis's break from the game was brought on by chronic foot pain and operations on both ankles, along with the feeling that her rivals, often the Williams sisters, were overpowering her too often. The last of her five Grand Slam singles titles came here in 1999, four years before she left the Tour at age 22.

The game has only picked up speed in her absence, but Zvonareva turned out to be a fine foil. An athletic counterpuncher, Zvonareva also has a deeply ingrained self-critical streak, which too often leaves her in tears on the court, and it did again Tuesday night.

"Definitely, this was the best match I've played since I came back," Hingis said.

This is her third tournament this year, all in Australia. Hingis won three matches in Gold Coast, losing to Flavia Pennetta of Italy in the semifinals. She then lost to last year's French Open champion, Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, 6-3, 6-3, in the opening round in Sydney.

Henin-Hardenne was able to punish Hingis's still-questionable second serve and capitalize on the few openings Hingis gave her. Zvonareva, who was ranked as high as No. 9 in 2004, had no such luck.

Her best chance against Hingis came in the opening game, when she failed to convert on three break points. In the next game, she lost her serve.

Hingis continued to control the play, forcing Zvonareva all over the court and mixing regular forays to the net with an occasional drop shot. Zvonareva continued to miss off-balance shots and plead her woeful case to no one in particular.

"More than anything, the girl finds a way to win and finds a way to get her opponent uncomfortable; I'm sure she has a way to negate power still," top-seeded Lindsay Davenport said of Hingis. "Sometimes, we have a difference in level between top 10 and then 10 through 20, but so far she's been playing excellent."
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