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Myskina makes early exit

Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2005

 

  Defending champion Russia's Anastasia Myskina reacts during her first round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Spain's Maria Sanchez Lorenzo, at the Roland Garros stadium, Monday, May 23, 2005 in Paris. Sanchez Lorenzo won 6-4, 4-6, 6-0. AP Photo/Michel Euler

Defending champion Russia's Anastasia Myskina reacts during her first round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Spain's Maria Sanchez Lorenzo, at the Roland Garros stadium, Monday, May 23, 2005 in Paris. Sanchez Lorenzo won 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.

AP Photo/Michel Euler

PARIS A sprinkle of rain, like soft tears, fell in the final game on one more day of sadness and frustration for Anastasia Myskina, the first defending French Open champion, male or female, ever to lose in the first round.

The thrill of her upset victory a year ago seemed a mocking memory for the wispy Russian. Fans who cheered her then now unsympathetically whistled when she smacked her racket on the court in anger at herself. Shots she couldn't miss last year have been flying wildly most of the time since. She can't find her footing, her rhythm. Her mind wanders between points and during rallies.

Much of it is understandable. Her thoughts have been with her seriously ill mother, and there are times when the 23-year-old Myskina feels she should not be playing at all. Her dark eyes were sad and downcast Monday during her 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 loss to Spanish 18-year-old Maria Sanchez Lorenzo, in stark contrast to her bright orange tank top and white short shorts on an afternoon when the red clay courts were alternately sun-dappled and rain-speckled. One moment it was warm, the next chilly and blustery.

It was a day that featured a parade of former champions and hot newcomers, a tease of what might be expected over the next two weeks. The top-seeded players, Roger Federer and Lindsay Davenport, advanced, as did the 18-year-old sensations Rafael Nadal of Spain and Richard Gasquet of France.

''I was a little more nervous than usual. I felt maybe a little insecure,'' said the thickly muscled, No. 4 seeded Nadal, winner of five clay-court titles this year. ''My idea was to look at this as one more match, with nothing really special about it.''

Nadal switched back and forth between English and Spanish with relative ease as he spoke, saying the blisters on his hand he sustained recently were not healed but were not a problem.

Garbed in a sleeveless, lime-green shirt and white toreador pants, the Spaniard kept up a constant chatter with himself as he roamed the round bullring-shaped Court One stadium. He wore a smirk of disdain after some shots, showed a touch of anger at himself after others. His head bobbed like a pigeon to emphasize his intensity.

Defending men's champ Gaston Gaudio also won, along with all the other seeded men in action except No. 17 Dominik Hrbaty.

Venus Williams, coming off a victory in a clay tuneup in Turkey and seeking her first French title, won easily, as did Kim Clijsters, a two-time French Open runner-up.

''For sure I want to win this one,'' said Williams, who owns two Wimbledon and two U.S. Open titles. ''I don't know if I'm obsessed. Obviously, I'm working hard.''

Clijsters showed no sign of her recent knee injury during her 6-1, 6-0 romp over qualifier Meilen Tu, but looked gimpy afterward walking away from Roland Garros. Clijsters, out much of last year because of a wrist injury, hadn't played a Grand Slam match since January 2004.

''I had to test it out there,'' Clijsters said of her heavily wrapped right knee. ''This is good to have a match like this in the first round. I haven't had the perfect preparation, but something like this definitely helps to have the match rhythm and to work on a few things during the match, get your mind ready for it to be back playing.''

Myskina's erratic play goes beyond her roiling emotions. There are the flaws in her style, a lack of consistency that goes back several years, and a shoulder that has been sore for months.

All those conspired to give Myskina a dubious place in French Open history. She became only the third woman in the Open era to fall in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament the year after winning. It happened to Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in 1994 and to Jennifer Capriati at the Australian in 2003. It happened four times to men's defending champions in majors.

Whether Myskina, loser of her last four matches, will return to be a contender for titles again or drop into obscurity as a one-hit wonder depends on how soon she can regain her confidence.

''Right now, I know for me it's difficult really to understand what I have to do on the court,'' she said. ''When the balls come to me, I don't really know what I have to do. ... I have no confidence at all right now on the courts.''

She didn't use her sore shoulder as an excuse.

''If my shoulder would be ready for 100 percent, I still would not win this match. It's not a matter of my shoulder,'' she said.

Asked if she could put aside her emotions and think clearly during the match, Myskina smiled slightly and said only half-jokingly, ''Yeah, I guess so. I clearly understood that I'm losing the match.''

But a moment later her eyes glistened on the verge of tears when she was asked if it is impossible to put aside thoughts of her mother during a match.

''Well,'' she said, ''just put yourself on myself. You know how you'd feel.''



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