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Venus finds fault in game at French Open
May 30 2003
By Charles Bricker
The Sun-Sentinel

The French tricolor was flying everywhere Thursday, but the most important flag on the stadium court for Venus Williams' second-round struggle was warning-sign yellow.

Williams started the match with an ace and finished with a flourish, winning 12 of the final 16 points to defeat Evie Dominikovic 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. But in between there were seven double faults, some startlingly sloppy service return work and a final shot in the second set that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Dominikovic, ranked No. 109, had popped up a service return that fluttered down a foot inside the service line and Williams promptly smacked it into the net to square the match and send 15,000 denizens in the stands to buzzing.

"Definitely, I can't stay at that level and continue to do as well as I'd like at this tournament," Williams said later, showing no sign of an emergency. "Definitely, I need to play more and play more points and definitely not rush my shots."

Still, at the end of a third consecutive day of blue skies and 80-degree weather, Williams was into the third round Saturday against Silvia Farina Elia, whom she has played eight times with the loss of only one set.

That means probably one more gimme round before she runs into a serious opponent -- probably 18-year-old Vera Zvonareva of Russia, who is currently at No. 22 and bound for the top 10.

And so the French Open completed the second round on Day 4 with Williams, seeded third, advancing along with No. 2 Kim Clijsters, No. 6 Lindsay Davenport, No. 7 Jennifer Capriati and No. 15 Magdalena Maleeva. The only upset was Tina Pisnik's victory over slumping, 10th-seeded Jelena Dokic by 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

On the men's side, there were some tense struggles, most notably by defending champion Albert Costa, but all the title suspects made it through.

Costa played his second five-setter in a row, defeating Radek Stepanek 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Two other favorites, No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero and No. 15 Gustavo Kuerten, had very easy matches. Ferrero was leading Nicolas Massu 6-2, 3-0 when Massu retired with an injured ankle. Later, Kuerten whisked through Hicham Arazi 6-1, 6-0, 6-1.

"Bad luck for him, good luck for me because it's one less match, one easy match for me," Ferrero said. "Third round ... playing only four sets ... you know, I think it was great for me today."

He'll be heavily favored against No. 25 Tim Henman. Kuerten, meanwhile, is going to have a very difficult match with Gaston Gaudio, a pugnacious Argentine whose game seems perfectly suited for the slow conditions here.

There were two upsets. Eighth-seeded David Nalbandian, another member of the Argentine legion here and the 2002 Wimbledon runner-up, was beaten by qualifier Nicolas Coutelot of France 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, and No. 14 Sebastien Grosjean, the expatriate Frenchman living in Boca Raton, lost to Fernando Vicente 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3.

There was vintage Venus on court against Dominikovic, but not enough. Her consistency is lacking. She shanked a half-dozen service returns and was beaten too often in the long rallies.

Dominikovic, born in Australia of Croatian parents, took a low-risk game plan into this match. She mixed flat drives and looping topspin against Williams, hoping to keep her off balance and staying down the middle of the court most of the time, preferring to let Williams make mistakes.

It was the right strategy. Trailing 3-4 in the second, Williams combined a double fault, two forehand errors and one off the backhand side to go down 3-5 in the pivotal game of that set.

In the third set, the two women broke in the first three games before Venus moved out to 3-1 and then did her best serving of the night in game six to take a 4-2 lead.

Still, she knows she's not playing at a high enough level right now to win this Slam.

"I'm feeling OK. I just have to keep working at it," she said.

Two more American men were eliminated -- Todd Martin by Henman and No. 24 James Blake by Ivan Ljubicic. That left only No. 2 Andre Agassi and No. 29 Vince Spadea of Boca Raton to hold up the U.S. flag. Agassi plays Xavier Malisse today, and Spadea takes on hard-serving Dutchman Martin Verkerk.

Charles Bricker can be reached at [email protected].
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