Serena has easy time in French Open

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

PARIS -- Serena Williams warmed up with sister Venus on center court at the French Open, then barely broke a sweat in her opening match against Barbara Rittner.

The younger Williams began her bid for a fifth consecutive Grand Slam title by beating Rittner 6-2, 6-1 Monday.

The victory was Williams' 29th in a row at a major tournament, a streak she began at Roland Garros a year ago. She's trying to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988-89 to win five straight Grand Slam titles.

"I think players generally believe that I'm the player to beat in any tournament, especially the Slams, because I like to kick it up to a new level," Williams said. "This is what I play tennis for mostly -- to be remembered."

Andre Agassi, the 1999 champion, double-faulted twice on match point before finishing off Karol Beck 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.

"I'm here because I believe I can win," said Agassi, at 33 the oldest player in the men's draw. "I've still got a chance."

There were three early upsets on the men's side. Eliminated were No. 5-seeded Roger Federer, No. 10 Paradorn Srichaphan and two-time French Open runner-up Alex Corretja, seeded 16th.

James Blake won a showdown of young Americans, beating Taylor Dent 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (3).

Williams warmed up 90 minutes before her match with Venus Williams on the same court where they played last year's final.

"It was really fun to be back out where all the magic began for me last year," Serena said.

Venus, who has lost the past four major finals to Serena, plays her opening match today against Samantha Reeves.

Serena Williams looked nervous early, even with the stadium mostly empty on a sunny, 60-degree morning. In the first three games she over-hit several volleys and committed 10 unforced errors.

When she blew an easy overhead in the next game, Williams slumped over with a rueful smile. She soon settled down, won eight games in a row and closed the victory in 54 minutes.

"You always have the feeling like she can put another gear in, and then that's it," Rittner said. "She's very strong. It makes you feel like you have no influence on the game."

Other winners in women's play included No. 4 Justine Henin-Hardenne and No. 5 Amelie Mauresmo. Henin-Hardenne beat Patricia Wartusch 6-3, 7-5, and Mauresmo swept fellow Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano 6-3 7-5.

Ashley Harkelroad, an 18-year-old American ranked 52nd, made a successful debut at Roland Garros by beating Saori Obata 6-4, 6-2.

Another American, Meghann Shaughnessy, needed 2 1/2 hours to rally past Svetlana Kuznetsova 3-6, 7-5, 11-9. Mary Pierce, the 2000 champion, lost to 2002 semifinalist Clarisa Fernandez 6-2, 6-3.

Federer was ousted in the opening round for the second straight year, committing 82 unforced errors and losing to Peru's Luis Horna 7-6 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (3).

"It's a big disappointment," said Federer, who leads the men's tour with 38 match victories this year. "Very sad to leave so early. I should have played better."

Horna, the 1997 juniors runner-up at Roland Garros, had never previously won a Grand Slam match.

"This is the most wonderful feeling I've ever had throughout my life," he said. "The fact that I was going to play Federer the first round, I was a bit nervous."

Paradorn was eliminated by Dominik Hrbaty 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 7-5. Corretja lost to fellow Spaniard Galo Blanco 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5.

Carlos Moya, the 1998 champion, beat Filippo Volandri 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Mark Philippoussis rallied past American qualifier Alex Kim 2-6, 6-7 (1), 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

Defending champion Albert Costa opens today against lucky loser Sergio Roitman.

The French Open is the only title for Costa in his past 88 events, dating to August 1999.

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