Paris: Defending champion Albert Costa narrowly escaped a humiliating French Open fate on Tuesday, while Lleyton Hewitt and his Belgian sweetheart Kim Clijsters rattled off messages of intent at the claycourt Grand Slam.
Not once since the tournament first welcomed foreigners in 1925 had a champion — man or woman — fallen at the first hurdle. Under clear Parisian skies, Costa came mightily close to becoming the first.
But when it mattered, Argentine Sergio Roitman’s nerve failed him and he allowed Costa off the hook to squeeze out a face-saving 6-7, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 win.
Having trailed by two sets and 4-2 it was an escape of some proportions and one that the ninth-seeded Spaniard was lucky to pull off after three hours and 38 minutes.
American sixth seed Andy Roddick was made to suffer for his lukewarm performance, however, ousted by Armenian muscleman Sargis Sargsian 6-7, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
It was the American’s second successive first round loss in Paris and a big disappointment since he had won his sixth title in St Poelten on clay last week.
There was never any hint of disappointment for Clijsters, though, as she walloped Amy Frazier and, although boyfriend Hewitt had looked a little out of touch against Brian Vahaly, the winner of that match was never really an issue either.
Britain’s Tim Henman put his recent poor form and injury worries behind him to thrash Belarussian Vladimir Voltchkov 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.
Roitman, by contrast, posed a very real threat to the survival of the tournament’s 2002 champion and it required all of Costa’s composure and experience to outlast a man only admitted to the tournament after others had withdrawn injured.
Granted a place in the main draw despite losing in qualifying, the so-called ‘Lucky Loser’ rode that luck for 2 1/2 sets before seeing his dream disappear in the French capital.
Costa scrapped and chased, hustled and harried before finally overcoming the Argentine.
Clijsters was never in such trouble as the women’s second seed nailed her American opponent 6-2, 6-0 in 45 minutes.
Packing both a heavyweight punch and a featherlight touch, the Belgian floored Frazier with ease. Frazier’s usual ghostly pale visage grew redder and redder as the sun beat down and Clijsters ran her this way and that throughout the contest.
Frazier — a competent professional with 16 years experience on the WTA Tour — was simply made to look clumsy as Clijsters rattled off a straightforward victory.
Clijsters’ boyfriend Hewitt did enough to win but displayed nothing like the form that has made him world number one.
The Australian toiled for more than three hours on the slow, red clay to overcome an opponent ranked 76th in the world.
After winning a closely contested first set 6-4 in 55 minutes, Hewitt showed Vahaly no mercy in the second, unleashing a series of devastating forehand winners from the baseline to take it 6-1.
Hewitt lost his touch in the next set, though, and wasted three match points in the tiebreak — hitting a double fault on the third — before losing it 8-6. He won the match by taking the fourth set 6-3.
Hewitt will face Russian Nikolay Davydenko, who beat Briton Greg Rusedski 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.
Former women’s champion Jennifer Capriati romped into the second round, trouncing South African Joannette Kruger 6-2, 6-1.
Sixth seed Lindsay Davenport, of the US joined her, beating Indonesia’s Wynne Prakusya 6-2 while 10th seed Jelena Dokic, playing under the Yugoslav flag, beat Germany’s Angelika Roesch 6-4, 6-4.
Former French Open champion Michael Chang of the United States bowed out of the French Open for the last time, losing his first round tie 7-5, 6-1, 6-1 to Fabrice Santoro of France in just over two hours.
Sanaa in jr main draw
Meanwhile, there was more good news for the Indians at the French Open with Sanaa Bhambri entering the girls’ singles main draw, adds a PTI report from New Delhi. (Agencies)