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Venus ousted but Serena survives

2006-07-28 16:04

  Serena Williams admitted she choked before narrowly avoiding an embarrassing first-round defeat in her Australian Open title defense with a 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 win over unseeded Chinese player Li Na in Melbourne yesterday.

  “Everyone chokes, I choked today,” a relieved Williams told Australian television after she avoided joining her sister Venus as a first-round casualty.

  Serena returned to Melbourne with question marks over her fitness after knee and ankle injuries forced a long lay-off last year and she almost became only the second defending Australian champion to lose in the opening round.

  Jennifer Capriati was the first in 2003.

  Seeded 13th after her ranking plummeted when she played just 23 matches after winning in Melbourne last year, Williams served for the match in the 10th game of the second set.

  But two double faults handed Li a crucial service break that turned the course of the match.

  Li, who reached the third round in her first grand slam in Melbourne last year, then kept Serena running around the court and was able to force a tiebreaker, which the Chinese woman dominated 7-1.

  The pair traded service breaks at the start of the deciding set before a relieved Serena snapped back into gear, breaking Li's service twice more before closing out the match after 126 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

  “I just lost it basically, I didn't do what I needed to do,” Serena said of her mid-match slump.

  She said later that she was able to turn the match back in her favour after she became angry with herself in the final set.

  “I just got angry that I was in the situation,” she said.

  “I felt as if the match should have been over and I shouldn't even have been out there at that point,” Williams told reporters, adding that at that point she decided to hit out more after playing too defensively against Li.

  It was the American's first match since September when she lost in the opening round to Chinese wildcard Sun Tiantian in the China Open and she hit 45 unforced errors to Li's 58.

  “There's definitely a lot of things I'm going to work on,” Williams said.

  She said she was pleased with her fitness, even joking that she felt like dancing she had so much energy.

  “I'm feeling pretty good, actually, I'm not tired at all,” Serena said.

  “I'm just surprised I have so much energy,” she said.

  Serena will play Frenchwoman Camille Pin in the second round and remains on track for a fourth-round showdown with Russian fourth seed Maria Sharapova.

  Serena's older sister Venus, the 10th seed, was beaten 2-6, 6-0, 9-7 by little-known Bulgarian teenager Tszvetana Pironkova earlier.

  Top-seeded Lindsay Davenport needed a few games to find her groove before advancing with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Australian wildcard entry Casey Dellacqua. Masters Cup champion David Nalbandian was cruising, then had to fend off a gutsy comeback attempt by Thai qualifier Danai Udomchoke to win 6-2, 6-2, 1-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1.

  Fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova showed no signs of her sore right shoulder bothering her, smacking 20 winners while downing Germany's Sandra Kloesel 6-2, 6-1. Sharapova said she has seen dozens of doctors during the last six months and has been told the problem won't get worse from playing.

  Second-seeded Andy Roddick, rebounding from a first-round loss at the US Open, didn't get the first ace from his powerful serve until the second set but still had minimal trouble in beating Switzerland's Michael Lammer 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. He ended up with seven aces, the last on match point.

  Eighth-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, the 2004 winner here, beat Marta Domchowska of Poland 6-2, 6-2.

  Former Wimbledon semifinalist Jelena Dokic, a wildcard in her first Australian Open since 2001, crumbled after thinking she'd won in straight sets. Dokic celebrated a forehand on match point at 6-5 in the second set, but it was called long.

  Virginie Razzano of France rallied to win 3-6 7-6 (6) 6-1.

  Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova, seeded 17th, overcame Japan's Saori Obata 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 and No. 6 Nadia Petrova defeated Australia's Sophie Ferguson 6-2, 6-1.

  No. 9 Elena Dementieva, a semifinalist at the last US Open, was the first seeded player to fall, losing 7-5, 6-2 to Germany's Julia Schruff.

  No. 24 Tatiana Golovin and No. 26 Ai Sugiyama soon followed Dementieva. Golovin lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to Mara Santangelo, and Sugiyama went down 6-4, 6-3 to Conchita Martinez Granados of Spain.

  On the men's side, No. 8 seed Gaston Gaudio, the 2004 French Open champion, was leading 6-2, 5-0 when Romania's Razvan Sabau retired with an injured arm.

  Also advancing were No. 7 Ivan Ljubicic, No. 11 David Ferrer, No. 13 Robby Ginepri, No. 16 Tommy Robredo, No. 17 Radek Stepanek, No. 18 Mario Ancic and No. 20 James Blake. Taylor Dent lost to Spain's Guillermo Garcia Lopez and former world No. 1 Carlos Moya went down to Andrei Pavel.

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