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Croats tune up for Open with Kooyong wins

Ivo Karlovic hits a backhand return against Gilles Simon during their match on the first day of the Kooyong Classic tennis tournament in Melbourne on Tuesday. (AFP)
MELBOURNE: Croat pair Ivo Karlovic and Borna Coric both posted victories on Tuesday as the Kooyong Classic began with injured Frenchman Richard Gasquet, one of the top drawcards, pulling out.
The pre-Australian Open tune-up was forced into a last-minute schedule change when Gasquet withdrew citing an abdominal injury.
Karlovic was originally set to face German veteran Tommy Haas, 38, but was switched to play France’s Gilles Simon, who had been due to take on Gasquet.
The 37-year-old Croatian beat Simon 6-4, 6-7 (1/7), 10-7 in a tournament using the match tiebreak system in testing summer conditions.
“I had a few tough games but I was able to win them so I am really happy with my serve and with the game coming into the Australian Open,” Karlovic said.
“It was a little bit windy and it was also hot, which I was not used to because I’ve been in Europe the last two to three months.”
Fellow Croat Coric, 20, coming off a four-month injury break, beat Australian Andrew Whittington 6-3, 6-4.
“It was a solid match, nothing special but I was hitting it okay and in the second set a little better,” he said.
Simon said it was difficult to adjust his game plan, expecting to face Gasquet but instead playing big-serving Karlovic.
“It’s more about the strategy, playing Richard or Ivo is like the complete opposite,” he said.
“It’s hard to play against Ivo, tough to find a rhythm but I think I did a good job in difficult conditions.”
In Tuesday’s final men’s match at the Kooyong club, which for years hosted the Australian Open, Polish substitute Jerzy Janowicz beat Haas 5-7, 6-4, 10-4.
The four-day event has brought back women for the first time in two decades, with local teenage hope Destanee Aiava losing to Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-1, 7-6 (7/4).

Baghdatis battles through

Marcos Baghdatis shrugged off injury concerns to reach the second round of the ATP Auckland Classic with a tough straight sets win over Frenchman Adrian Mannarino on Tuesday.
The eighth-seeded Cypriot showed no sign of an ankle injury that forced him to retire from last week’s Qatar Open, moving freely in his 6-4, 6-4 win at the Australian Open warm-up tournament in New Zealand.
Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun beat rising star Karen Khachanov 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (11/9) in a rollercoaster match that saw the world No. 61 squander four match points before finally downing the towering Russian.
Lu said he refused to be intimidated and stayed on the attack, even when facing two match points in the third-set tie-breaker.
“If I had the chance I just tried to go aggressive... I know he’s a tough guy and I tried my best. I’m happy to go through,” said Lu, who reached the only final of his 16- year career in Auckland three years ago.
Fifth-seeded Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas crashed out in a straight sets defeat to Joao Sousa of Portugal.
With the tournament’s top four seeds given a bye into the second round, Ramos- Vinolas was the higest-ranked player on display in the opening round.
But he failed to perform as Sousa ran away with the first set 6-1, then snuffed out a Ramos-Vinolas comeback to take the second 7-5.