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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tennis: Roddick, Nadal, Henin, Sharapova win at French

AP Sports Writer

PARIS — Andy Roddick slipped, then kicked the dirt. He chirped at the umpire about a call. When an unlucky bounce cost him a key point, he waved his arms in disgust.

And at the finish, he raised his fist to celebrate a French Open triumph.

Roddick's clay-court season began Tuesday, and he endured repeated frustrations on his worst surface before rallying past Jarkko Nieminen in the first round, 6-2, 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

The match was Roddick's first on clay since he lost in the fourth round at Roland Garros last year.

"There was a lot of ugliness out there today," he said. "But, you know, at the end of it, I get to play again. You go into a day hoping to get through a day, and I got through today."

Seeded sixth, Roddick barely avoided losing his opening French Open match for the fifth time. Instead, he earned his first five-set win in the tournament since 2001, the first year he competed, when he beat Michael Chang in the second round.

No. 2-seeded Rafael Nadal began his bid for a fifth French Open title by beating 18-year-old wild card Gianna Mina of France, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. The match was the first for Nadal at Roland Garros since he lost to Robin Soderling in the fourth round last year.

Justine Henin took a big step in her return from retirement, beating Tsvetana Pironkova 6-4, 6-3. The match was Henin's first at Roland Garros since 2007, when she won the tournament for the fourth time.

Kimiko Date Krumm also made a successful Roland Garros comeback, beating two-time runner-up Dinara Safina 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. The 39-year-old Date Krumm is the second-oldest woman to win a match in the tournament. She ended a 12-year retirement in 2008, was playing in the French Open for the first time since 1996.

Maria Sharapova began another bid for the only major title she has yet to win by defeating qualifier Ksenia Pervak 6-3, 6-2.

Other seeded women advancing included No. 13 Marion Bartoli, No. 16 Yanina Wickmayer, No. 18 Shahar Peer, No. 21 Vera Zvonareva, No. 23 Daniela Hantuchova, No. 25 Zheng Jie and No. 29 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Two U.S. women won — Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jill Craybas. Top-seeded Venus and Serena Williams won their opening doubles match, beating Kirsten Flipkens and Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-0, 6-1.

On the men's side, Robby Ginepri won an all-American matchup, rallying to beat No. 18 Sam Querrey 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-2. American Michael Russell lost to Florent Serra of France 6-4, 6-0, 6-1.

U.S. men went 5-6 in the first round, an improvement on last year, when they went 2-7. Only four have reached the third round since 2006.

Their best hope for an extended stay this year is Roddick, even those his most recent tournament was more than seven weeks ago at Key Biscayne, where he won the title. He withdrew from this month's Madrid Masters because of illness.

"Spending three days in bed in Madrid wasn't the way we wrote it up," Roddick said. "That was bad. That was not the preparation we wanted."

Playing on center court for the first time since 2005, he looked rusty at times against Nieminen, a veteran left-hander from Finland. But Roddick's serve saved him — he hit 19 aces and was broken only twice.

A knack for clutch play in tiebreakers helped, too. Roddick found himself only three points from defeat leading 5-4 in the tiebreaker. But he hit a forehand chip for a winner, and a booming forehand to take the set and even the match.

Roddick is 16-4 in tiebreakers this year.

His past three Grand Slam defeats have been five-setters, but this time he took charge approaching the finish. A lunging forehand slice helped him break to take the lead for good at 3-2, and a double-fault by a weary Nieminen on match point gave Roddick the win.

"I've been saying all week if I can get through the first one or the second one, then maybe I will start hitting my stride and playing a little bit better," Roddick said. "But it's just a matter of surviving and advance."

Henin hit picturesque backhands, nifty drop shots and booming overhead slams — all staples in a repertoire that has helped her win seven Grand Slam titles. She also missed more than half of her first serves, however, and blew a handful of easy putaways.

Despite the inconsistent play, Henin extended her winning streak at Roland Garros to 22 consecutive matches and 37 consecutive sets. She hasn't lost at the French Open since 2004.

"I didn't know really what to expect and how I was going to deal with my emotions," the Belgian said. "As I walked in and I was into my match, I felt a lot of things were coming back. It was just fantastic to share this again with the crowd, as they gave me one more time great support. So it was very good to be back."

Henin rejoined the tour in January following a 20-month retirement, and while she's seeded only 22nd, she's considered one of the favorites for the title.

"She has all of the chances to win this tournament," said Pironkova, who had played — and lost to — Henin three times before. "She still plays great. I don't think she lost (anything) with that rest that she had. I think she is playing even better. She's faster, and her strokes are more secure."