US duo on Hopman Cup high
Perth - Victorious US pair John Isner and Bethanie Mattek-Sands are heading towards the Australian Open on a high after their win over Belgium in the mixed-teams Hopman Cup final.
The American team won 2-1, clinching the deciding mixed doubles rubber against Justine Henin and Ruben Bemelmans to give the United States a record sixth title.
Isner, ranked 19, and Mattek-Sands, ranked 58, showed impressive singles form during the tournament, gaining valuable match practice in the run-up to the first Grand Slam of the year, starting on January 17 in Melbourne.
The towering Isner used his booming serve to good effect to win three of his four singles matches, the only blemish being a straight sets loss to world number four Andy Murray.
Despite that loss to the Scot, Isner said he was confident a landmark win over one of the big four - Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Murray - was within reach and he was delighted with his form.
Isner, 25, said the Hopman Cup was a good start to his year.
"Last year it helped me. I wasn't playing as well last year either and it (Hopman Cup) helped me. I went on to win the tournament in New Zealand (Heineken Open) so hopefully I can continue that same path.
"This is an absolutely ideal event to start off the year."
Isner, who will again round out his preparation for the Australian Open in New Zealand this week, is confident he can continue to climb in the rankings.
Mattek-Sands was a late inclusion for the injured Serena Williams, but her singles clash with Henin in the final was one of the best matches of the tournament and her aggressive play won her plenty of admirers.
Although beaten by Henin in straight sets, Mattek-Sands had her chances against the Belgian multiple Grand Slam winner and took a lot of positives out of the match, and the tournament as a whole.
"Knowing I was that close and I am competing with her all the way is a big boost to my confidence and I will take that into the rest of the year," the 25-year-old said.
"I think my next goal would be to get top 32, that's where you get seeded at a Slam."
Mattek-Sands won her first three singles matches, including beating French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in straight sets.
Despite being on the wrong side of the result in the final, Henin showed her latest comeback was on track by winning all four of her singles matches.