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Injured Seles out in second round

Venus Williams rallies in a wild second set to defeat Anca Barna.

©Associated Press
January 17, 2003

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Monica Seles made a surprisingly early exit from the Australian Open.

It's still not clear when she'll leave the Grand Slam stage altogether.

Hampered by an ankle injury, Seles lost to 113th-ranked Klara Koukalova of the Czech Republic 6-7 (6-8), 7-5, 6-3 Thursday in the second round. It's the first time Seles won't reach at least the quarterfinals of the major she's won four times.

"I was in bad pain; it's an ankle sprain," the sixth-seeded Seles said. "I knew I was in trouble. I tried to fight it out there, but she was just too good."

No. 2 Venus Williams trailed 1-4, 0-40 in the second set before beating Anca Barna 6-1, 6-4. In danger of falling behind 1-5, she saved three break points with a forehand volley, an ace and a deep backhand that Barna could not handle. She double-faulted twice in the final game before overpowering the German, ranked 69th, with a crosscourt backhand.

She next meets Nicole Pratt.

"I feel better with every match," Williams said. "In the first set, I played very well. In the second, she lifted the level of her game. She started getting a lot of balls back and I started missing.

"At 4-1, I decided to miss a lot less."

Former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, the No. 9 seed, advanced quickly with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Tatiana Panova.

Davenport hit winners even off-balance as she kept Panova on the run. She next meets No. 5 Justine Henin-Hardenne, who defeated No. 32 Katarina Srebotnik 6-2, 6-0.

"I don't know when was the last time I was out of the top four seeds," Davenport said. "I still feel like I belong at the top of the game.

"I played exactly the way I wanted to play, which was attacking a lot of balls and going for my shots. Today they were falling in."

Virginia Ruano Pascual won 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 against Marlene Weingartner, who knocked out defending champion Jennifer Capriati in the first round.

Men's No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt routed Todd Larkham 6-1, 6-0, 6-1.

Seles, 29, owns nine major titles but hasn't reached a Grand Slam final since the 1998 French Open.

She rolled her left ankle trying to change direction when she was wrong-footed by Koukalova in the third game of their match.

After getting treatment from the trainer while she sat on the court, Seles moved to the changeover chairs to have the ankle strapped and get some painkillers.

She'll have tests today.

In the meantime, "I just want to get out of the pain, because I've been in it for the past 21/2 hours," Seles said, adding that the Rebound Ace courts at Melbourne Park are "stickier" than other surfaces.

"It surprised me today because it really wasn't hot," she said.

Seles said Koukalova forced her to run and, "I was just a step slower. I couldn't change directions."

Koukalova sealed the win with a drop shot before raising both arms in triumph. This is her first foray into Grand Slam tennis.

"I'm very happy. I couldn't believe I actually won," Koukalova said. "Monica is a top-10 player, so it's unbelievable."

NO PRESSURE HERE: James Blake of Tampa says the pressure is off him since all the attention goes to fellow American Andy Roddick.

"I don't feel the pressure too much," Blake said after winning his second-round match. "I think Andy took that burden off all of us by carrying that burden on his own. We were all hearing, "Where's the next generation of American tennis when Sampras and Agassi retire? What's going to happen?' "

Blake, Roddick and Mardy Fish of Tampa Palms have reached the third round.

Blake, ranked No. 28, said the pressure on No. 10-ranked Roddick allowed him and Fish to sneak up the standings under the radar of public pressure.

"As we get better, there will be more pressure to kind of replace those (older) guys, even though they're two of the best in the world. That kind of pressure is an opportunity to do something great."

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