Davenport, Clijsters win easily

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2003

NEW YORK The opening day of a Grand Slam tournament is a carnival of tennis, with more than 100 top men and women playing all across the grounds.

And yet, without so much as lifting a racket, one man commanded most of the attention Monday: Pete Sampras.

The owner of a record 14 Grand Slam singles titles, including five at the U.S. Open, Sampras formally announced his retirement at a news conference, then was honored during a half-hour ceremony on the court in Arthur Ashe Stadium at night.

It was the chief storyline on a day that had plenty:

Kim Clijsters won her first Grand Slam match since being ranked No. 1, while her boyfriend, 2001 Open champion Lleyton Hewitt, won his first Grand Slam match since a first-round exit at Wimbledon;

1998 champion Lindsay Davenport tested her injured left foot and advanced easily;

highly seeded players were upset (No. 8 Chanda Rubin, No. 9 Sebastien Grosjean);

and a young American, Alex Bogomolov Jr., was taken away on a stretcher after cramping severely during a 3 1/2-hour match.

No. 6 Hewitt beat Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in the day's last match. It was a much smoother performance for the former No. 1 player than he produced two months ago at the All England Club, where he became just the second defending champion to lose in the opening round since Wimbledon began in 1877.

Without Sampras or the injured Serena Williams, it's the first U.S. Open in more than 30 years missing both of the previous year's champions. That's lent an air of anyone-can-win to both draws, and Clijsters and the third-seeded Davenport figure to be among the women who could take advantage.

Clijsters replaced Williams atop the rankings two weeks ago, despite never having won a Grand Slam title, and now finds herself in the role of favorite. The Belgian, only once an Open quarterfinalist, lost the first two games against NCAA singles champion Amber Liu before piecing together a 6-2, 6-3 victory.

In Davenport's case, she'll only be a factor if she can deal with a nerve problem in her left foot, an injury that hampered her at the French Open and Wimbledon, and forced her to quit against Jennifer Capriati during the final of a tournament Saturday. Davenport wasn't tested at all Monday, beating 80th-ranked Els Callens 6-1, 6-0 in 46 minutes. Davenport never faced a break point.

''I was really relieved when the match was over and extremely nervous beforehand, just trying to figure out how my foot was going to be, and if it would be OK,'' Davenport said. ''It's something I've chosen to deal with because I really want to play here the next two weeks.''

She'll have surgery after the Open and should be sidelined two-to-three months.

Injuries are a recurring theme at this Open, including Williams' left knee surgery and the stomach muscle strain that forced her sister Venus to withdraw.

Surprise French Open finalist Martin Verkerk advanced to the second round when Bogomolov, a 22-year-old wild-card entry from Miami, had to quit a game into the fifth set because of cramping during a 3 1/2-hour match. Bogomolov, who had two match points in an 11-9 fourth-set tiebreaker, was taken off the court on a stretcher.

Rubin has been bothered by her right shoulder, though she refused to blame that for a disjointed performance in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Maria Vento-Kabchi, a Venezuelan ranked 84th and without a match win at a major in more than 1 1/2 years.

''It was just a really bad match for me,'' said Rubin, who made 46 unforced errors. ''I just didn't play with enough glue. I didn't play with enough consistency, and I didn't concentrate well enough.''

No. 9 Grosjean, twice a Grand Slam semifinalist, did acknowledge lingering right elbow pain contributed to wasting two match points and losing to Ramon Delgado 6-4, 6-7 (3), 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4.

Winners on Monday included French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, 1999 U.S. Open runner-up Todd Martin, No. 5 Guillermo Coria, No. 5 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova, No. 13 Vera Zvonareva, No. 19 Nadia Petrova and No. 28 Lisa Raymond.

But No. 25 Eleni Daniilidou and No. 26 Lina Krasnoroutskaya lost, as did No. 17 Tommy Robredo, No. 18 Max Mirnyi (who was in Agassi's quarter of the draw), and 1997 runner-up Greg Rusedski.

It was Rusedski who called Sampras ''a step and a half slow'' after losing to him in the third round last year.

Martin spoke at length Monday about Sampras, against whom Martin lost 18 of 22 matches, including the 1994 Australian Open final.

''Pete knew when to play better, how to play better, more than anybody I've ever met, and I think that's a skill and a talent that was too often veiled by the accolades that he got for his physical talents,'' Martin said.

Asked if he were emotional seeing Sampras walk away, Martin smiled.

''Emotional? No,'' Martin said, joking. ''The guy ruined parts of my career.''

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