Gasquet scores Kooyong win
Melbourne - France's Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon earned opening-day wins at the Kooyong Classic Wednesday as preparation for next week's Australian Open began to heat up.
World number nine Gasquet was tested by 321st-ranked Australian Jordan Thompson - a late substitute for a fatigued Lleyton Hewitt - before escaping with a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4) win.
The eight-man tournament is considered the top tune-up for the season's first Grand Slam, starting Monday.
And Simon rallied from the depths to overhaul Stanislas Wawrinka 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 after the Swiss served for a straight-set victory in the event.
Wawrinka, world number eight, committed more than 40 unforced errors in windy conditions as Simon seized the initiative in the match which had appeared to have been a lost cause.
"It was a good win, it's always difficult to play Stan," said Simon. "He doesn't give much rhythm and you never know what to expect.
"It's good to be playing this kind of tennis with the Grand Slam coming."
Czech Tomas Berdych, ranked seventh, had earlier shrugged off a slow start to recover from 5-2 down in the first set to defeat Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-2. While Kei Nishikori beat Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (7/5), 6-4.
Teenager Thompson gave good account of himself in the first big match of his career, ending with a respectable 16 aces but missing out on a huge upset as he failed on two match points late in the final set.
The Aussie benefited as Gasquet, recovering from recent back pain, committed more than 40 unforced errors, around half of them on his strong backhand side.
Gasquet said the complaint which stopped him last week in Doha was not completely healed, one of the reasons he was repeatedly called for foot faults on his serve.
"I'm not happy with my form at the moment. I need to be 100 percent for Monday. We will have to see what happens over the next couple of days," said the Frenchman who has never been past the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Berdych admitted that he was distracted by a red-and-white court background which made it tough for him to see the ball as he faced Verdasco.
"I struggled with the background, it was really tough to make out the ball. But after a while I started to see it more clearly," he said.
"I began hitting the ball better and my game got better and better as the match went on."
Berdych recovered from 5-2 down in the opening set and took victory on his first match point after a double break in the second.
"I faced some tough situations, it was a solid start," said Berdych, a first-round loser last week in Doha.
"I need as many matches as possible in these fast conditions before the Australian Open," Berdych added.
"I have improvements to make to my game, but they won't be dramatic, just little by little."
Results on the first day of the Kooyong Classic on Wednesday:
Tomas Berdych (CZE) bt Fernando Verdasco (ESP) 7-5, 6-2
Kei Nishikori (JPN) bt Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 7-6 (7/5), 6-4
Richard Gasquet (FRA) bt Jordan Thompson (AUS) 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4)
Gilles Simon (FRA) bt Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) 4-6, 7-5, 6-3