Federer, Srichaphan stumble - Serena kicks off title defence with searing win l Agassi displays top form

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  • Published 27.05.03

Paris: Serena Williams got her French Open title defence off to the perfect start on Monday when she streaked into the second round with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Barbara Rittner of Germany, to be joined by rivals Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Former men’s champion Andre Agassi also showed top form, taking his year record to 24 wins for only two losses with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 win over Karol Beck of Slovakia.

The 33-year-old Las Vegan has pocketed four titles this season — including the Australian Open, his eighth Grand Slam crown.

He came to Paris on the back of a first-round defeat in Rome against Spain’s David Ferrer, then skipped Hamburg — but the rest has clearly done the veteran the power of good and he left the Philippe Chatrier show-court with chants of “Andre, Andre” ringing in his ears.

A respectful bow — and a few air kisses later and off he went to prepare for a meeting with either Chile’s Marcelo Rios or Croatian Mario Ancic.

“I’m here because I believe I can win,” he insisted after coming off court.

Serena’s 29th straight Grand Slam win and Agassi’s saunter saw the form-book largely respected, but it was well and truly upset when men’s fifth seed Roger Federer slumped out to Peruvian Luis Horna, who won their meeting on the Philippe Chatrier show-court 7-6 (8-6), 6-2, 7-6 (7-3).

Federer, ranked among the favourites, turned in a dismal showing, netting a backhand on match point having flunked his first set chances with a rash of errors including a missed overhead smash which summed up his day.

“It’s a big disappointment. I’m very sad to be leaving so early. I should have played better,” said the 21-year-old Swiss from Basel, a quarter finalist at the Roland Garros two seasons ago.

Federer came here having lost the Rome Masters final to Spaniard Felix Mantilla before losing in Hamburg to Australia’s Mark Philippoussis.

Horna was delighted to have sprung a major surprise.

“It’s a dream to knock out a seed,” said the 22-year-old Davis Cup player from Lima, ranked 73 in the world and who was making his debut at Roland Garros.

There was another shock among the men when experienced 49th-ranked Slovak Dominik Hrbaty ousted tenth-seeded Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 7-5 while Spanish qualifier Galo Blanco downed twice finalist Alex Corretja 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5.

Carlos Moya of Spain, the 1998 men’s champion who had expected to meet Federer in the quarters, defeated Filippo Volandri of Italy 7-6 (9-7), 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 to set up a meeting with either Philippoussis or American Alex Kim.

Also moving through was 1996 champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, who destroyed Julien Boutter of France 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

Kafelnikov, 29, mulled retirement after winning the Davis Cup with Russia last year but has a new spring in his step after making the semi-final in Rome.

Back among the women, fourth seed Henin-Hardenne beat Patricia Wartusch of Austria 6-3, 7-5.

Belgium’s Henin-Hardenne, who came here with the German Open under her belt after ousting compatriot Kim Clijsters in the final a fortnight ago, now meets Croatian Jelena Kostanic.

Serena, looking to emulate Steffi Graf’s 1988-89 achievement of capturing five straight Slam singles titles, took just 53 minutes to see off Rittner.

“It’s nice to be out there where all the magic began last year,” said Serena, who beat elder sister Venus in last year’s final and then went on to land Wimbledon and the US Open.

“It’s nice to have all the fans cheering me out there. I feel like I’m where I’d like to be,” said the 21-year-old from Michigan, who next faces Switzerland’s Marie-Gaiane Mikaelian, a 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 winner over Indonesia’s Angelique Widjaja, last year’s junior champion.

Serena came to Paris after defeats to Henin-Hardenne in Charleston and France’s Mauresmo in Rome and that pair bar her route to the final.

Fifth seed Mauresmo, who ousted compatriot Virginie Razzano 6-3, 7-5, is the American’s potential quarter final opponent while Henin-Hardenne could end up as her semi-final rival.

Somdev in jr main draw

Meanwhile, India’s Somdev Dev Varman has been accepted into the singles main draw of the French Open junior championship, according to a PTI report from New Delhi.

The 18-year-old Dev Varman, ranked 49th in the junior list, will be the second Indian to play the Grand Slam junior event following Sania Mirza’s wild card entry into the girls’ section.

Karan Rastogi, ranked 63, and Sanaa Bhambri, 53, had earlier earned wild cards into the qualifying rounds of the boys’ and girls’ sections, respectively.