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Serena stumbles a bit, but comes out on top

Williams has a tough time with 30th-seeded Tatiana Golovin, but patience pays off with a 7-5, 6-4 victory.

Associated Press
Published September 4, 2004

NEW YORK - Hardly at her best, barely beating one of the tour's pesky teens, Serena Williams suddenly found herself facedown at the U.S. Open.

Running for a ball she couldn't reach, the six-time Grand Slam champion slipped and planted both palms on court to brace herself. Williams shook the sting out of her hands, beckoned a ball boy to retrieve her fallen racket, then took her sweet time before facing break point.

Recomposed, Williams smacked a service winner at 111 mph, an ace just as fast and forced an error. Just like that, she held serve en route to beating 30th-seeded Tatiana Golovin 7-5, 6-4 Friday night to reach the Open's fourth round.

It was not Williams' best performance. Indeed, it brought to mind last month's loss in the Wimbledon final to Maria Sharapova, who's 17 - just one year older than Golovin.

"Obviously, I'm pretty happy, because I played her better than I did at Wimbledon," said Golovin of her 6-2, 6-1 loss in England.

Williams, the 1999 and 2002 Open champion, lost four straight games to trail 4-1 in the first set. She made a dozen unforced errors to that point and finished with 42. But she turned things around by winning eight of nine games.

During one changeover when her play was at its roughest, Williams glanced up at the giant video screen hovering over Arthur Ashe Stadium and noticed her total error count.

"I don't think it was mental. I was just missing easy shots," she said. "It was pretty tough out there. I kept making errors. I couldn't get the balls in."

Defending champion Andy Roddick followed them out on court and, overcoming the third-set distraction of a diatribe directed at the chair umpire, beat 18-year-old Rafael Nadal 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 to get to the third round.

Roddick tied his Open record with a 152 mph serve that made Nadal whiff and, after losing the opening two points, won 23 of 27 to seize control. One of Roddick's big serves caught Nadal in the lip, and another left the teen tumbling. Roddick hit the deck once, too, scraping skin off his hand as he slipped while charging the net.

His biggest problem was staying focused. Roddick noticed pal Rulon Gardner, a 2000 Olympic gold medalist wrestler, in the stands. And he expended some energy yelling at chair umpire Andreas Egli for calling a let when a ball dribbled out of Roddick's pocket during a point in the third set.

Roddick got broken once in that set, then won the last four games.

"I played really well for the first two sets; kind of had a concentration lapse in the third," Roddick said. "But I was able to come through in the end."

Juan Carlos Ferrero was angry about getting docked a point while losing in the second round just one year after reaching the Open final.

Chair umpires "do not treat all players the same," Ferrero said after Stefan Koubek beat him 7-6 (7-2), 4-6, 6-7 (6-8), 6-2, 6-3.

"Maybe it's easy to say code violation (to me), and maybe to other big players, it's not the same, here in the United States. So I'm not happy with the chair umpire."

Another 2003 semifinalist, No. 8 David Nalbandian, and No. 12 Sebastien Grosjean joined the roster of seeded men making early exits.

Nalbandian was a 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 loser against Mikhail Youzhny, and Grosjean was beaten 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 by Tommy Haas.

No. 23 Vince Spadea lost, too, leaving Roddick and Andre Agassi as the only two of 17 U.S. men left. Never before had fewer than three Americans reached the Open's third round.

Just like at the All England Club, Williams found herself in trouble against a player who grunts as loudly and hits as powerfully as she does.

This time, though, Williams was able to find a solution, in part by being more patient on points. It helped, too, that Golovin wasn't as cool as Sharapova, even double-faulting three times in a game to get broken to 4-1 in the second set.

Jennifer Capriati survived a tougher-than-expected 6-0, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 win against 17-year-old Vera Douchevina to get to the fourth round.

Also, No. 2 Amelie Mauresmo beat No. 31 Maria Vento-Kabchi 6-2, 6-0, and No. 6 Elena Dementieva advanced when No. 26 Nathalie Dechy couldn't play because of a strained left thigh.

It's been a frustrating year for Ferrero, quite a change from 2003, when he won the French Open, was runnerup to Roddick at the U.S. Open, and briefly reached No. 1. He's battled everything from chicken pox to bruised ribs, and Friday he was hampered by a strained right hamstring.

"I couldn't play almost any tournament 100 percent fit," he said. "I want to forget this year."

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