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Henin and Serena shine in French Open gloom

Triple champion Justine Henin and Serena Williams, the 2002 winner, reached the French Open second round on Sunday as Roland Garros shivered in rain and biting cold.

sports Updated: May 28, 2007 10:07 IST

Triple champion Justine Henin and Serena Williams, the 2002 winner, reached the French Open second round on Sunday as Roland Garros shivered in rain and biting cold.

In an opening day programme decimated by a six-hour rain delay, Belgian top seed Henin, bidding for a third successive title here and fourth in all, saw off Russian 20-year-old Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-3.

Henin wrapped up victory in 89 minutes and will face Austrian 16-year-old Tamira Paszek, who took a set off her in Dubai in February, for a place in the third round.

Vesnina, the world number 65, squandered her best chance of creating a shock when she had two points to lead 4-1 in the second set. But once the Belgian had rediscovered her composure, the result was never in doubt.

"It was a hard, tough day and the weather will be like this for the rest of the week," said Henin playing her first Grand Slam event since the break-up of her marriage.

"But winning today is all that counts. It was tough but I controlled the match at the end."

Williams, reinvigorated by her surprise Australian Open triumph in January, which gave the American her eighth career Grand Slam title, had a much tougher time in her first round clash.

The eighth seed won 12 of the last 13 games as she was forced to battle back from a set down to beat Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 and book a match-up with either Virginie Razzano of France or Milagros Sequera of Venezuela.

"The rain slowed down the balls and I wasn't sliding as well as I can in the first set," said Williams.

"But I'm always fighting and if was going to lose, I was going to go down kicking and screaming. I also knew that if she won, there was a 99.9-percent chance that she wouldn't win the next round.

"That gave me more fight."

Williams struggled in the opening set on the Suzanne Lenglen court in cold, damp conditions.

She fought off set points in the seventh and ninth games and was more than happy to walk off court for the mararthon rain suspension.

However, Pironkova, playing in only her third match at Roland Garros, kept her nerve when the players returned to serve out a love game to take the set 7-5.

The slender 19-year-old Bulgarian then broke to lead 1-0 in the second set before Williams turned up the heat to clinch nine games in a row on her way to grabbing the second set and nipping 3-0 ahead in the decider.

Twenty-four matches had been scheduled for the opening day of the 2007 championship, but with torrential rain falling for most of Sunday, organisers were forced to cancel 17 matches of the planned programme.

Former world number one Marat Safin of Russia eased past Spanish qualifier Fernando Vicente 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 in just 84 minutes to ensure his second round spot before the rains arrived.

Safin, the 22nd seed and a semi-finalist in 2002, will face Janko Tipsarevic, who beat fellow Serb Dusan Vemic in four sets, for a place in the third round.

Safin, a former US and Australian Open winner, refuses to write off his chances of winning a French Open title despite the likely domination of the tournament by defending champion Rafael Nadal and world number one Roger Federer.

"This is still my favourite surface. The courts here are great, the bounce is good. It's my place. If I can get through a few rounds I can be dangerous."

On Monday, world number one Federer begins his campaign to win the only Grand Slam title to have eluded him when he meets America's Michael Russell in his opener.