Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Venus, Serena both advance easily Venus, Serena both advance easily
ESPN.com news services
PARIS -- Martina Navratilova hit an ace Tuesday, a nifty achievement for a 47-year-old player at the French Open. She needed more than one.
Navratilova's Roland Garros comeback lasted barely an hour, ending with an opening-round loss to Gisela Dulko, 6-1, 6-3. The match was Navratilova's first in Grand Slam singles since 1994.
"I had some moments of brilliance," Navratilova said. "But they were few and far between, unfortunately."
The left-hander employed the same serve-and-volley tactics that helped her win 18 major singles titles, but she was often a step slow reaching shots. Navratilova won just 10 of 22 points at the net, struggled with her serve and was broken five times.
In the twentysomething division, Serena and Venus Williams advanced easily.
No. 2-seeded Serena, jeered the last time she played at Roland Garros, drew warm applause after she beat Iveta Benesova 6-2, 6-2.No. 4 Venus looked tentative at times in her first match since being sidelined by an ankle injury this month, but still defeated Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-2, 6-4.
Dulko, 19, was born the year after Navratilova won the second of her two French Open titles in 1984. And Navratilova missed opportunities against the teenager, converting only one of six break-point chances.
Navratilova led 3-2 in the second set before Dulko won the final four games.
"If you look at the score line, you'd say, wow, she got killed," Navratilova said. "But if you watch the match, I could have been up 4-3 in the first set. I couldn't convert game points -- that was the difference in the match."
In the next-to-last game, Navratilova stumbled and fell to the clay chasing a forehand into the corner. Dulko grimaced in concern, but Navratilova quickly rose unhurt.
Active in doubles since 2000, when she came out of retirement, Navratilova has said this will be her final year of competitive tennis. Her return this week drew complaints from at least two players that Navratilova took a spot in the draw that could have gone to a young player trying to establish herself.
"Did I diminish the tournament by playing out there today?" Navratilova said. "I don't think so."
Navratilova said she hasn't decided whether to play singles next month at Wimbledon, a tournament she won a record nine times.
Serena Williams played on center court at the same time her older sister was on Court Suzanne Lenglen, and neither match produced much drama. Venus lost the first two games, then won 10 in a row against Tanasugarn.
"I was a little stressed out too starting out and got a slow start," Venus said. "But so far, so good. Keep them short and simple."
She's seeking her fifth Grand Slam title but her first since 2001 and her first at Roland Garros. She declined to say whether she was hampered by pain in the ankle.
"If I was, I wouldn't let on," Williams said with a smile.
Parisian fans turned against Serena Williams last year when she questioned calls during a semifinal loss to eventual champion Justine Henin-Hardenne. But this time there were cheers, not jeers.
"It was really exciting to come back out there," Williams said. "I got out there and got nice applause. It was interesting. I didn't think anything about the semifinals. I just thought about playing my match."
The biggest stir Williams caused Tuesday was in response to her latest ensemble -- a fuchsia two-piece outfit augmented by a headband, poofy hairpiece and hoop earrings the size of tennis balls.
"I'm always trying to raise the bar on my outfits, especially here," Williams said. "It's a one-of-a-kind city, and you need to have a one-of-a-kind outfit."
Venus had 29 winners but also 29 unforced errors.
In other women's play, 2000 champion Mary Pierce of France won 6-2, 6-3 against Claudine Schaul, who upset Lindsay Davenport in the final at Strasbourg on Saturday.
The last Frenchwoman to win her home Grand Slam, Pierce is not considered a threat this year but did more than enough to excite the early fans on Center Court.
"It's just something really special about Roland Garros and playing here," Pierce said.
"It's just funny how it happens for me. When I start playing this tournament, it's amazing. It just brings the best out of me."
Russian women improved to 8-0 in the tournament with victories by No. 11 Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 25 Elena Bovina, both in straight sets. Other seeded winners were No. 12 Ai Sugiyama, No. 16 Patty Schnyder and No. 17 Francesca Schiavone.
No. 26 Nathalie Dechy of France lost to countrywoman Stephanie Foretz 1-6, 7-5, 6-1, and Daniela Hantuchova continued her dramatic slide down the rankings, winning just four games against Japan's Shinobu Asagoe in a 66-minute, 6-1, 6-3 defeat at Roland Garros.
The loss means Hantuchova, 21, will likely drop out of the world's top 50 when the new ranking list is released in 13 days. She had been ranked as high as fifth in the world less than 18 months ago.
No. 13 Chanda Rubin of the United States withdrew Monday. Rubin has a recurring knee problem.
Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.