| Lleyton Hewitt of Australia during his match with Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic in Perth on Thursday. Novak won 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. (AFP)
Perth: World number one Lleyton Hewitt was stunned by Jiri Novak in front of his home fans at the Hopman Cup on Thursday, but lowly-ranked Alicia Molik’s heroics kept Australia alive in the mixed team event.
Hewitt and Molik must now beat Novak and Daja Bedanova in the decisive mixed doubles to reach the final at the expense of the Czech team after Novak defeated Hewitt 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
The winner of the best-of-three Group B clash will advance to Saturday’s final where they will meet either the US or Belgium. The US and Belgium clash on Friday.
The defeat was a first for Hewitt at this year’s mixed team event and was the first rubber Australia have conceded in the contest. World number seven Novak was simply too powerful and too determined for counter-puncher Hewitt.
“This is one of the best victories of my life...I am so happy that I was able to do this here today,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the other match, Alicia Molik fought back to defeat Czech Daja Bedanova in the mixed team event.
Molik hauled herself from 5-1, 40-30 down in the opening set to beat the Czech 7-6, 7-5 and put the second-seeded hosts 1-0 ahead at the Burswood centre.
“How about that'” Molik grinned on courtside immediately afterwards. “It has been a great feeling the last few days. I have been playing great tennis for a while but have not been able to seal the opportunities.“To come here and play like this in front of home fans is brilliant.”
Molik, ranked 94th in the world, has not lost a set this week and has racked up victories against 17th-ranked Silvia Farina Elia, eighth-ranked Daniela Hantuchova and world number 37 Bedanova.
Belgium get past Uzbekistan
Xavier Malisse shunted his flamboyant game back on track at the Hopman Cup to lead Belgium past Uzbekistan in the mixed team event.
A semi-finalist at Wimbledon last year, Malisse has blown hot and cold since but at the Burswood Dome he was able to put a mystery illness behind him to beat Oleg Ogorodov 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 and clinch the win for the fourth-seeded Belgians.
Earlier Kim Clijsters notched up her first win of the New Year, steamrolling Uzbek Iroda Tulyaganova 6-3, 6-2 to nudge Belgium into the lead. Clijsters and Malisse also won the mixed 6-1, 6-1.
World number four Clijsters punched groundstrokes all around the indoor court to see off the 55th-ranked Tulyaganova. “Last time I played her I lost,” Clijsters said. “She’s a very good player, so I am very pleased with that win.”
Malisse, beaten by Spain’s Tommy Robredo in his opening match, woke up on Thursday morning feeling unwell.
“I was feeling dizzy and not well... this morning I didn’t want to eat but had to eat something for energy,” he said. “But as the match wore on I felt better and better.
“On court things felt much better today. The more balls I hit the more confident and comfortable I felt.”