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Williams starts title defense with a win

Venus cruises as Day 2 ends with no major upsets.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 27, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England -- Venus Williams began defense of her Wimbledon title Tuesday with her first win in more than a month as order returned after Martina Hingis' startling opening-day loss.

Lindsay Davenport, Andre Agassi, Patrick Rafter andLleyton Hewitt advanced with straight-set victories.

Last year's surprise semifinalist, Vladimir Voltchkov of Belarus, was eliminated.

The performances of Williams and Davenport also signaled a return to form at the tradition-bound All England Club. They are the last two Wimbledon champions but neither has had an outstanding year.

Williams, who won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, is playing in only her eighth tournament this year. She won two of them but lost her last match before Tuesday, in the first round of the French Open on May 28.

"I don't think I'll ever get over it," she said.

"I don't think I worked hard enough. I deserve to be in this position but it's okay. I'm not doing that bad."

Neither is Davenport, who missed three months of competition, including the French Open with a bruised right knee. She returned as a champion, winning the Eastbourne tuneup for Wimbledon Saturday, then won an unexciting match Tuesday and said her knee was fine.

"I was so nervous before I played because I just want to do so well here," she said.

"It's always been tough for me the first round or two in Grand Slams. Things normally turn around."

Davenport, seeded third, beat Martina Sucha 6-3, 6-3, while Williams, seeded second eliminated Shinobu Asagoe 6-2, 6-3. Semifinalist Jelena Dokic and French Open runner-up Kim Clijsters also advanced.

Agassi, seeded second, beat Peter Wessels 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 6-4 in his 200th Grand Slam match. He was runner-up in 1999, a semifinalist last year and won this year's Australian Open.

Asked if he's feeling weary after 45 appearances in majors, Agassi, 31, said: "I was weary at age 19, too.

"I'm experienced enough not to get ahead of myself. At the same time, I'm still trying to make sure I step up with the same intensity. Every year, it does get harder."

He won Wimbledon in 1992 before top-seeded Pete Sampras, who won Monday, began his run of seven titles in eight years.

Rafter, seeded third, beat Daniel Vacek 6-2, 7-6 (9-7), 6-3. Last year, Rafter was runner-up to Sampras despite being seeded 12th.

"Last year gave me that little bit extra confidence that I probably can do it now," the Aussie said.

Hewitt, an Australian seeded fifth, eliminated Magnus Gustafsson 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Voltchkov lost 6-3, 6-7 (9-11), 7-6 (10-8), 7-5 to Mikhail Youzhny.

For the second straight day, unseasonably steamy temperatures heated the players and spectators but there was no hint of rain that usually falls during the tournament.

Williams had little trouble with either the 91-degree temperature on Centre Court or the pressure of defending the most prestigious title in tennis.

"I don't feel any pressure to defend," she said. "I'd just like to win again."

Williams, vying to become Wimbledon's first repeat champion since Steffi Graf in 1996, wasted no time celebrating, breaking into a big smile even before Asagoe's final service return landed long. Her last win came in the round of 32 at the German Open in May.

If Williams was affected by not having played in nearly a month, it didn't show as she won the first three games Tuesday.

But Asagoe, ranked 62nd in the world, won the next two before Williams went ahead 5-2. Asagoe served the next game, fighting off six break points before Williams wrapped up the set with a backhand winner.

Asagoe, who lost her ninth straight opening-round match, went up 3-1 in the second set. But Williams saved three break points and held serve for 3-2, then won the last four games while dropping just four points -- none in the final game.

* * *

WIMBLEDON: 11 a.m. today, TV: TNT.

ONLINE: The Official Wimbledon Web site, 2001

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