| Flavio Saretta of Brazil exults after winning his second round match against Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Saretta won 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 6-7, 6-4. (Reuters)
Paris: Defending champion Serena Williams of the United States raced into the third round of the French Open Wednesday along with Belgian fourth seed Justine Henin-Hardenne as Slovak ninth seed Daniela Hantuchova and former champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov headed for the exit.
Top seed Williams, already the holder of all four Grand Slam titles, slammed Switzerland’s Marie-Gaiane Mikaelian off the Suzanne Lenglen court 6-3, 6-2 in one hour seven minutes to set up a meeting with either last year’s semi-finalist Clarisa Fernandez of Argentina or Barbara Schett of Germany.
“It’s always great to be back in the Paris sunshine,” said a beaming Williams. “I’m feeling great mentally and physically.”
Henin-Hardenne maintained her recent form racing into the third round with a 6-2, 6-2 win in one hour 13 minutes over Croatian Jelena Kostanic.
There was a shock in store however for Hantuchova at the hands of American teenager Ashley Harkleroad, while Kafelnikov, the 1996 champion, admitted he was considering calling it a day after his 4-6, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6 (7-0), 4-6 loss to unknown Brazilian Flavio Saretta.
Hantuchova found her game briefly to level after the second set only to slide 1-5 down in the decider. When she levelled for 5-5 it appeared she had come out of her nosedive, but 52nd ranked Harkleroad, making her senior debut here, was determined not to lose her big chance.
“I’ve always been very fiesty, and a fighter even when I was playing juniors. I just said ‘Ashley you’re not going to lose this’,” said the 18-year-old American, who only became eligible to play the WTA circuit three weeks ago.
The 20-year-old from Bratislava, whose recent slump in form and pencil-thin figure have given rise to persistent speculation that she is suffering from anorexia, crumbled in the face of the unrelenting challenge of her rival from Florida.
But afterwards Hantuchova had to run the gauntlet of questions about her diet and justify her pencil-slim frame, which has given rise to claims she suffers from anorexia — something she strenuously denied. “I am really blessed in that I can eat whatever I want. I just burn more calories than I’ve got in my body,” said Hantuchova, saying she has no eating problems.
Harkleroad, playing with a strapped elbow because of tendinitis, jumped for joy as she broke the Slovak’s serve to win through 7-6 (7-2), 4 -6, 9-7 in three hour eight minutes and set up a meeting with the winner of the tie between Spaniard Magui Serna and Israel’s Anna Pistolesi.
Hantuchova, who reached the fourth round here last year and went on to reach the Wimbledon and US Open quarter finals, slammed down three times as many winners as her opponent, but gave an error-strewn performance with 108 unforced errors and seven double faults.
Former Australian Open champion Kafelnikov, the 17th seed, meanwhile said he was considering his future after his three hour 55 minute loss.
“It’s a disappointment to lose, the fact is I might not be back next year,” said Kafelnikov who saved a match point in the fourth set to force the fifth set.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t to be I was thinking just to get through somehow. I knew that match was important to me.
“He was a mystery man to me I’d never seen him play one shot,” added Kafelnikov of his opponent who goes on to meet Spanish qualifier Galo Blanco, who defeated Argentine Mariano Puerta 6-2, 6-2, 6-4, in the third round.
Meanwhile in other second round action, Japanese 16th seed Ai Sugiyama beat Sandra Kleinova of the Czech Republic 7-5, 6-0 and now meets 18th seeded American Meghann Shaughnessy.
Switzerland’s Patty Schnyder, seeded 19, got past French hope Stephanie Cohen-Aloro 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) and next meets Greek 14th seed Eleni Daniilidou, who beat Italy’s Tathiana Garbin 6-0, 4-6, 6-2.
Venus sails through
On Tuesday, Venus Williams overcame a stuttering start to reach the second round beating fellow American Samantha Reeves 6-2, 6-4 (briefly reported in Wednesday’s Late City edition).
Williams, who has failed to win a Grand Slam since her triumph at the 2001 US Open, was clearly below her best after being sidelined for the last couple of weeks with an abdominal strain.
But she refused to blame her injury for her performance. “I was simply off with my timing today,” she said. “I’m doing okay and took things easy.”
The 22-year-old exchanged breaks with Reeves in the first four games of the match as both players struggled to find their footing as dusk fell over the Suzanne Lenglen court.
But the third seed finally found her range to reel off five straight games to clinch the opening set.
Her erratic play returned at the beginning of the second as she once again swapped breaks with the 108th ranked Reeves and had to fend off three break points before going 2-1 up.
Reeves kept pace with Williams throughout the set, but her resolve finally crumbled when she served to stay in the match at 4-5 down and sailed a forehand wide on her opponent’s second match point.
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