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Kuznetsova cruises in Paris rain by Dave James

Torrential rain washes away top seed Maria Sharapova's eagerly-awaited 2008 French Open bow as Russian compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova sails into the second round
AFP | By HT Correspondent, Paris
UPDATED ON MAY 27, 2008 08:53 PM IST

Torrential rain washed away top seed Maria Sharapova's eagerly-awaited 2008 French Open bow on Tuesday as Russian compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova sailed into the second round.

Start of play on the third day of the tournament was delayed by almost three hours as Roland Garros was swamped by a deluge which resulted in 20 of the day's scheduled 72 ties being put back to Wednesday.

Sadly for the wet and cold crowd, one of those was Sharapova's match-up against fellow Russian Evgeniya Rodina.

Fourth seed Kuznetsova, the 2006 runner-up to the now-retired Justine Henin, saw off Japan's Aiko Nakamura 6-2, 6-3 and will face either America's Vania King or French wildcard Violette Huck for a place in the last 32.

Kuznetsova, a former US Open champion, took just over an hour to see off world 71 Nakamura as she tries to fulfill Henin's prediction that she could be the likely winner of the 2008 title.

"I spoke to her and she told me that this could be my year and that really cheered me up," said the 22-year-old who was of only two players to complete matches before the rain returned to cause another lengthy delay.

Fellow Russian Dinara Safina, the 13th seed was also safely through seeing off Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine 6-1, 6-3 to set up a clash with either Croatia's Karolina Sprem or Slovakian qualifier Magdalena Rybarikova.

Kuznetsova said she enjoyed the bleak, heavy atmosphere in the French capital.

"I hit the ball big and heavy and these conditions were very heavy so I felt very comfortable especially with her ball being flat and slow," she said.

Later Tuesday, Rafael Nadal, the triple men's champion, was due to face Brazilian qualifier Thomaz Bellucci with the Spaniard hoping to take a first step towards joining Bjorn Borg as the only man to win four successive men's titles here.

Russian fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko, a semi-finalist in 2007, was taking on Swedish veteran Thomas Johansson, the 2002 Australian Open champion.

If he comes through that he could meet compatriot, and former world number one, Marat Safin who was facing Monaco's Jean-Rene Lisnard in his first round match.

Safin is one of three former number ones in action Tuesday.

Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open winner, faces Brazil's Marcos Daniel while Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, a quarter-finalist in 2001 and 2004, meets France's Nicolas Mahut.

Hewitt arrived in Paris nursing a painful hip injury and hasn't played since helping Australia beat Thailand in a Davis Cup play-off in April.

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