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Aus Open: Venus ousted; Davenport advances

Wimbledon champion Venus Williams crashed in the first round, losing 2-6, 6-0, 9-7 to Tszvetana Pironkova.

tennis Updated: Jan 17, 2006 10:57 IST

Wimbledon champion Venus Williams crashed in the first round at the Australian Open on Monday, losing 2-6, 6-0, 9-7 to Tszvetana Pironkova.

It was only the third time in 34 Grand Slam tournaments that the five-time major winner has lost in the opening round. The 10th-seeded Williams sprayed 65 unforced errors, including 41 in the third set as she struggled to control her ground strokes in her first tour-level event since September.

"It happens to the best of us," said Williams. "I had so many unforced errors, I struggled to keep the ball in. I just couldn't get it right, she benefited from my largesse.

"If I had just one-third less errors, this match is a different story."

Bulgaria's Pironkova, ranked 94th, was broken when she served for the match in the ninth game of the third set.

Williams, who also had a chance to serve for the match in the 12th game, screamed when she gave Pironkova match point with a backhand into the net. She surrendered the 2 hour, 28-minute match on another backhand error.

The match turned against Williams when she missed a routine overhead in the first game of the second set that could have given her two break points.

Pironkova held and went on a six-game winning stretch. After trading breaks to open the deciding set, Pironkova was serving for the match at 5-3 before Williams rallied, winning three straight games and getting a chance to serve for the match at 6-5. Williams was broken in that game on a forehand error, then looked up at the sky in a mixture of frustration and disbelief. She lost in the first round at Wimbledon in 1997 and at the French Open in 2001. Her previous earliest exit in Australia was in the third round. Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 win over Australian wild card entry Casey Dellacqua, ranked No. 180. Davenport, seeking her fourth Grand Slam singles title and first since her win here in 2000, set up three match points with an ace and clinched it in 57 minutes with an overhead winner. Davenport next faces Croatia's Karolina Sprem, a 6-4, 6-2 winner over Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine.

No 9 Elena Dementieva was the first seeded player ousted. The 24-year-old Russian, a semifinalist at the last US Open, lost 7-5, 6-2 to Germany's Julia Schruff.

No 24 Tatiana Golovin and No 26 Ai Sugiyama followed her out, losing to Mara Santangelo and Conchita Martinez Granados of Spain. Former Wimbledon semifinalist Jelena Dokic, who won a wild card tournament to gain entry to her first Australian Open since 2001, crumbled after thinking she'd won in straight sets against Virginie Razzano.

Dokic celebrated a forehand on match point in the 12th game of the second set, but it was called out.

Razzano rallied to win it 3-6 7-6 (6) 6-1.

Davenport spent all but seven weeks atop the rankings in 2005 and reached the finals here and at Wimbledon.

She has a new coach-- David DiLucia-- and a difficult draw at Melbourne Park, with 2004 US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne in her quarter. "I feel like I'm ready for the challenges," said Davenport, 29. "I feel like I have the ability to play well and hopefully repeat what happened last year, and go better."

Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova, seeded 17th, overcame Japan's Saori Obata 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 and No 6 Nadia Petrova defeated Australia's Sophie Ferguson 6-2, 6-1.

On the men's side, Masters Cup champion David Nalbandian, seeded No. 4, overcame Thai qualifier Danai Udomchoke to advance 6-2, 6-2, 1-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1.

Eighth-seeded Gaston Gaudio had a shorter-than-expected opener. The 2004 French Open champion was leading 6-2, 5-0 when Romania's Razvan Sabau retired with an injured right elbow. No 13 Robby Ginepri only needed 1 hour, 19 minutes for a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over Austria's Jurgen Melzer.

It was an easy start for Ginepri, who developed a reputation for going the distance in his last appearance at a major. The 23-year-old American reached the semifinals at the US Open, where he became the first man in the Open era to play four five-set matches at one tournament.

"Winning in three is a much better start, it's easier on the body," said Ginepri.

Two Swedes went out on the opening morning. No 17 Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic beat Bjorn Rehnquist 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 and Denis Gremelmayr of Germany defeated Jonas Bjorkman 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-1. Men's No 2 Andy Roddick opens later Monday against Michael Lammer, a 23-year-old qualifier from Switzerland. James Blake, who won the Sydney International on the weekend, was to play Jose Acasuso of Argentina.

On the women's side, defending champion Serena Williams was against China's Li Na in the first night match on center court and Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, was playing Germany's Sandra Kloesel.

Henin-Hardenne, the 2004 Australian Open winner and reigning French Open champion, went into her opening match against Marta Domachowska in form after winning the Sydney International on the weekend.

First Published: Jan 16, 2006 11:17 IST