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Molik loses as Aussies struggle again

After blowing three match points in a tight three-set loss to Russian Tatiana Panova in the first round of the Australian Open, Alicia Molik could be excused for looking for a cat to kick or a cliff to jump off.

But, as she explained, that's just not her style.

When Jelena Dokic took the decision last year to reactivate her Yugoslavian passport, Molik took over the mantle as the great hope of Australian women's tennis.

Molik blamed "not believing in a forehand enough" for one of the three match points that passed her by in the deciding set of a 1-6 6-3 10-8 loss that she had dominated for the first set and a half.

But Panova's persistence and speed around the court eventually wore her down.

"I could put my head down, go straight to transport and grab a car and forget about stretching and forget about talking with my coach," said the 20-year-old South Australian.

"But I'm not really going to get anything out of that ... I don't think I'll carry today's loss into tomorrow if I play doubles and it's probably good that I can do that.

"I won't sit in the corner of the changeroom and cry endlessly over a match, that's just the type of person I am."

One positive Molik could take from the match was that it was light years better than her corresponding match here last year which she lost 6-0 6-0 to Silvija Talaja of Croatia.

For the second day running, the Australian losers - most notably Lleyton Hewitt - easily outnumbered the winners.

Hewitt became the first men's top seed in the Open era to lose in the first round of the Australian Open, going down 1-6 6-1 6-4 7-6 (7-4) to Spaniard Alberto Martin.

Hewitt later hit out at his opponent for seeking medical attention for cramp in the deciding tiebreak despite showing no previous signs of discomfort.

With Todd Reid losing 1-6 6-1 6-4 6-4 to French Davis Cup hero Nicolas Escude and Jaymon Crabb bowing out 6-2 6-0 5-7 6-4 to former world No.1 Marcelo Rios, Mark Philippoussis was the only Australian still alive in the men's singles after one round.

It was a mixed day for the Australian women with Nicole Pratt, Bryanne Stewart and Cindy Watson advancing and Molik, Rachel McQuillan, Amanda Grahame and Christina Wheeler all falling at the first hurdle.

The final wash-up was that only four of the 18 Australian entrants won their way through to the second round.

Pratt, the highest ranked Australian at No.45, struggled at times but was too steady in the final set for Zsofia Gubacsi of Hungary and won 6-7 (6-8) 6-2 6-3.

"I let her get away with too much but of course I'm happy to win," said Pratt.

"I didn't know anything about her, I've never seen her before and never seen her play before.

"In most situations you know what the other player's going to do, but today I had no idea."

Watson beat Maria Jose Martinez of Spain 6-3 6-3 and then said the main difference between the Australian women and the higher ranked players was a mental one.

"We can all play, it's just a matter of doing it at the right time," said the 23-year-old from Melbourne after recording her first-ever win in a grand slam tournament.
"We don't get to play at this level all that much."

Stewart also justified Tennis Australia's decision to give her a wildcard by beating Jana Nejedly of Canada 6-4 6-4.