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Williams opens with victory

Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2004

MELBOURNE, Australia Venus Williams is ready to make up for lost time.

Showing no ill effects from an extended layoff, Williams returned at the Australian Open with a 6-2, 6-1 victory Tuesday over American teenager Ashley Harkleroad.

Sidelined for almost six months last season because of an abdominal injury, the third-seeded Williams won in her first major since losing the Wimbledon final to sister Serena last July.

''I was real excited out there today,'' said Williams. Before the match, she was feeling ''a little sentimental.''

Afterward, ''it was just like a breath of fresh air,'' she said.

In men's play, Wimbledon champion Roger Federer found his range with his powerful forehand and beat Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-3, 6-4, 6-0. Also, former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt was leading Cecil Mamiit 6-2, 6-4, 1-0 when the American retired after he crashed into the umpire's chair while chasing a drop shot.

On the women's side, ninth-seeded Chanda Rubin had a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over Sweden's Asa Svensson and moved into a second-round match against Denisa Chladkova of the Czech Republic, a 6-4, 6-2 winner over Stephanie Foretz of France.

Williams' only slips were a twisted ankle in the fourth game and one dropped service game, in the fifth game of the second set.

''I was going for my swing volley and twisted my right ankle,'' she said. ''I'll monitor it, see how it goes I'm not expecting it'll cause any problems.''

She served at speeds up to 119 mph and won 75 percent of points on her first serve. She didn't waste any time, between points or on them, producing 27 winners against Harkleroad.

Williams closed in 51 minutes, approaching the net and opting not to jump for Harkleroad's desperate lob on match point. She smiled as she watched it drop behind the baseline.

''It's been a long, long time,'' the four-time Grand Slam winner said.

Williams was given the No. 3 seeding here, despite her ranking dropping to No. 11 at the end of last season. The WTA Tour made the recommendation based on Williams' ''protected ranking.''

''I'm really grateful, I suppose, for the seeding ... I think it's pretty consistent with the WTA rules,'' she said.

Her last match at Melbourne Park was a loss in last year's final to Serena, who withdrew from this tournament because she hadn't recovered from a knee operation.

''I wanted to do well, do what my coach said which is my mom, so I had to,'' said Williams.

Her mother, Oracene Price, exchanged text messages with Serena during the match. Venus said she was missing having her sister around.

''It's just not the same. We're always together it's like a piece of the link is missing,'' she said.

After losing five Grand Slam finals to her younger sister, Venus should be grateful Serena didn't travel.

Top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne is one player who has a better chance without one of the Williams in the draw. She didn't lose a game advancing to the second round, while No. 4 Amelie Mauresmo and No. 5 Lindsay Davenport also advanced Monday. Second-seeded Kim Clijsters was opening later Tuesday.

The second-seeded Federer reeled off seven consecutive games to close in 1 hour, 29 minutes and extend Bogomolov's record in Grand Slam tournaments to 0-5.

Federer will meet another American qualifier in the second round after Jeff Morrison beat Dennis van Scheppingen 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

Mamiit had his right ankle treated, served in the next game against Hewett, then withdrew.

''I've never seen anything like that before,'' said Hewitt. ''I think I'd worked into a position that was going to be hard for him to get out of anyway.''

Hewitt's last three rivals have all retired during matches. Dutchman Martin Verkerk withdrew from their semifinal in Sydney last week saying he was too ill to continue.

In the final, Hewitt was leading when former French Open champion Carlos Moya sprained his right ankle. The injury sidelined Moya for the Australian Open.

In other men's matches, eighth-seeded David Nalbandian of Argentina beat Brazilian Ricardo Mello 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, while his compatriot and fifth-seeded Guillermo Coria lost to Cyril Saulnier of France 7-6 (7), 6-2, 6-4.

Three other seeded men's players fell, with Felix Mantilla (23rd) losing to Thierry Ascione of France, Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman (25th) losing to Armenia's Sargis Sarsian and Felicio Lopez (28th) defeated by fellow Spaniard Alberto Martin.

Greg Rusedski lost 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to 26th-seeded Albert Costa in likely his last match before he faces an ATP doping hearing at Montreal on Feb. 9.

Rusedski admitted two weeks ago he'd tested positive for nandrolone last July, but claims the banned steroid was contained in supplements dispensed by ATP trainers.

He said the drug issue that has overshadowed his season hadn't interfered with his tennis and now he wanted to focus on getting his case prepared.

Advancing in straight sets were 14th-seeded Jiri Novak, a semifinalist here two years ago, Australian wild-card entry Todd Reid and Swedish teenager Joachim Johansson.

In the women's draw, 12th-seeded Paulo Suarez, winner at a warmup event in Canberra last week, beat fellow Argentine Gisela Dulko 6-2, 6-2 and Marion Bartoli of France had a 6-3, 6-1 win over American Alexandra Stevenson, who reached the 1999 Wimbledon semifinals as a qualifier but hasn't been beyond the second round at 18 Grand Slam tournaments since.

Sixth-seeded Anastasia Myskina was one of three Russian women advancing, joined by 21st-seeded Lina Krasnoroutskaya and Elena Likhovtseva winning 12 of the last 14 games in a 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 defeat Madagaskar's Dally Randriantefy.



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