REUTERS - Bernard Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt gave local fans some excitement before the Australian Open with victories in warm-up tournaments on Saturday while David Ferrer entered the record books.
Smarting from the poor form of women's world number nine Samantha Stosur, who lost first round matches in Brisbane and Sydney, and the lack of top-class local talent in the men's draw, Australian fans seemed resigned to another home grand slam without a standard bearer to cheer on deep into the second week.
On Saturday, however, Tomic captured his first ATP Tour title when he beat South Africa's Kevin Anderson 6-3 6-7 6-3 in the Sydney International.
"It's a great honour to win my first title here," said Tomic, still at loggerheads with Australia's Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter over perceived attitude problems.
"It's been a long time coming but I've finally got one of these trophies."
Hewitt turned back the clock to thump Juan Martin del Potro 6-1 6-4 and win the Kooyong Classic.
The 31-year-old Hewitt, who has been troubled with foot, toe, hip and hand injuries in recent years, also beat Canada's Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic at the eight-man invitational tournament.
The 2001 U.S. Open and 2002 Wimbledon champion, who moved the big Argentine around the court with ease, sealed his second Kooyong title when he ran around a del Potro serve and blasted a forehand winner across court to raucous applause.
"I felt like every match I got better and better and more confident," Hewitt told reporters. "Especially my ball-striking, I felt it was really coming out of the middle of the racquet from the word go.
"I moved really well and I felt sharp out there which is a good sign. I hit the ball as well as I have in a long time."
Hewitt now looms as a dark horse at the Australian Open, where he has been drawn against Serbian world number nine Janko Tipsarevic.
"He's a quality player and he's improved a lot in the last two years," Hewitt said. "It's going to be a tough match but I'll be ready for it.
"It's nice to know that in the back of your mind you've done all the right preparation to just go out there and play."
World number five Ferrer entered the record books with his fourth Auckland Open title, while Elena Vesnina won her first WTA title at the Hobart International.
The 30-year-old Ferrer's 7-6 6-1 demolition of 2008 Auckland champion Philipp Kohlschreiber in 78 minutes ensured the Spaniard joined Australia's Roy Emerson as the only four-time winner of the title.
Ferrer won his first Auckland title in 2007 and has won the last three editions of the tournament. Emerson won his four titles in 1960 and then again from 1965-67.
"It was amazing for me to win here. Four times now, I can say this is my favourite tournament for sure," said Ferrer.
"Of course it is never easy to win an ATP tournament - and to win four times, is more difficult. I want to enjoy this moment because it is very special to me."
Vesnina claimed her first WTA tour title when she beat 2012 champion Mona Barthel 6-3 6-4 in just under 84 minutes in Hobart.
Vesnina had lost six previous finals, three in 2011 alone, and sank to her knees in relief when a Barthel backhand sailed wide of the tram lines to give her the title.
"I feel such a relief and I just want to cry honestly," Vesnina said. "I'm so happy that I won the final and I think in general I was pretty good.
"I didn't pressure myself at all I just went onto court and was thinking that 'this is my time, I have to do it and if I get a chance I have to use that chance'."
The 26-year-old meets France's Caroline Garcia in the first round of the Australian Open.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Melbourne; Editing by Alastair Himmer)
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