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Tennis

Davenport 'lucky,' escapes 19-year-old

By Associated Press
Published May 26, 2005

PARIS - Frustrated by the French clay and a Chinese teenager, Lindsay Davenport glared at her racket, muttered, clenched her teeth and then mounted a comeback.

Twice two points from defeat, the top-ranked Davenport won 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0 Wednesday against 19-year-old Shuai Peng in the second round at the French Open.

"I definitely got lucky and escaped one today," Davenport said.

The close call wasn't a shocker: Davenport also struggled in her opening match and rarely plays well at Roland Garros, the only major event she has yet to win. She last reached the quarterfinals in 1999.

"This is going to be my toughest two-week tournament, however long I last," Davenport said. "I don't expect to reach for the stars here. It's hard for me to move well on clay."

While Davenport averted an upset, the match nonetheless offered the latest evidence of China's emerging talent. A year ago in Paris, Jie Zheng became the first Chinese woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam event.

No. 11-seeded Venus Williams beat Fabiola Zuluaga 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, continuing a trend of tight women's matches. Defending champion Anastasia Myskina was upset on the first day, and Davenport and No. 2 Maria Sharapova won their opening matches in split sets. That was the first time in the Open era that the two top-seeded women were taken to three sets in the first round at a Grand Slam event.

Not every match was close. No. 14 Kim Clijsters, a two-time runner-up, advanced to the third round by drubbing Ludmila Cervanova 6-2, 6-1. No. 21 Mary Pierce, the 2000 champion, defeated Jelena Kostanic 6-1, 6-0.

Top-ranked Roger Federer improved to 43-2 this year by beating Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 7-6 (0), 6-2. Federer's biggest obstacle to his first French title may be No. 4 Rafael Nadal, who extended his winning streak to 19 matches by beating Xavier Malisse 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

Nadal next plays fellow 18-year-old Richard Gasquet of France, who beat Peter Wessels 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-1.

Davenport's narrow escape against the young Peng came on the annual kids' day at Roland Garros, which at times gave the Court 1 match the aura of elementary school recess.

Peng, ranked 43rd and playing at Roland Garros for the first time, served for the victory at 5-4 in the second set and led 30-15 before Davenport rallied. Consecutive backhand winners gave her the game, and she hit two more in the tiebreaker.

After committing 50 unforced errors in the first two sets, Davenport had just six in the final set. She closed out the victory with consecutive aces and a service winner.

"Normally you have one aspect of your game that's not going well," she said. "I really felt not great about almost every part. It was just one of those kind of tough days."

Williams, trying to break her habit of hugging the baseline, charged the net with success to reach the third round. Clay is typically a difficult surface for net rushers, but while Williams won barely half the rallies when she stayed back, she won 15 of 19 points at the net.

"Sometimes I'm tired of hanging out on the baseline," Williams said. "I feel like it's about time to break camp. When I'm playing my best I'm always moving forward, but that's pretty much anyone. Great players are always making something happen."

Playing the opening center-court match in short-sleeve weather, the first of the tournament, Williams had 45 unforced errors, including nine double faults, and lost serve seven times. But she won eight of the final nine points and improved to 6-0 against Zuluaga.

Williams will next play 15-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria, who upset No. 19 Shinobu Asagoe 7-5, 6-2. No. 4 Elena Dementieva won, but No. 27 Amy Frazier and No. 31 Karolina Sprem were eliminated.

Defending men's champion Gaston Gaudio reached the third round when Dmitry Tursunov defaulted shortly before their match because of a knee injury.

No. 7 Tim Henman, a semifinalist last year, lost to Luis Horna 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4.

[Last modified May 26, 2005, 01:18:13]


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