Heartbreak as Myskina falls at the first hurdle

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The Independent Online

Anastasia Myskina became the first defending women's singles champion ever to lose in the opening round at the French championships yesterday. She is only the third defending women's champion to lose in the first round of any Grand Slam tournament in the open era (since 1968). And few would question that her case is the saddest.

Anastasia Myskina became the first defending women's singles champion ever to lose in the opening round at the French championships yesterday. She is only the third defending women's champion to lose in the first round of any Grand Slam tournament in the open era (since 1968). And few would question that her case is the saddest.

The 23-year-old Russian's mother, Galina, has been seriously ill since the beginning of the year, and Myskina has continued to play even though, as her form has shown, her heart has not been in the game.

A year ago, Myskina became the first Russian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title, defeating her compatriot Elena Dementieva. Yesterday, Myskina was only a shadow.

"I'm a professional tennis player, so I have to play no matter what," Myskina said on the eve of her opening match against the 109th- ranked Maria Sanchez Lorenzo, of Spain, who defeated her 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.

Myskina imagined that she was feeling comfortable on the court again after taking the second set, but it was an illusion. "I started missing even more," she said after the third set whitewash. "Right now I can lose to anybody."

She will now take a short break in the hope of being able to play at Eastbourne and Wimbledon.

The two other defending champions to lose in the first round were Steffi Graf, who was beaten by Lori McNeill at Wimbledon in 1994, and Jennifer Capriati, who was defeated by Marlene Weingaertner at the 2003 Australian Open.

Tim Henman and Roger Federer, who are projected to meet in the men's singles quarter-finals, both defeated little-known opponents in straight sets in the first round. Henman, the seventh seed, beat Juan Pablo Brzezicki, an Argentinian lucky loser, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4. Federer, the No 1 seed, beat the Israeli qualifier Dudi Sela 6-1, 6-4, 6-0.

"Overall I was happy with the way I was able to dominate most of the match," said Henman, who lost his serve three times against an opponent who only held serve four times. Henman, a semi-finalist last year, next plays Luis Horna, of Peru.

Federer, whose serve was broken twice by Sela, said: "There were good moments but also bad moments. You can never be unhappy winning in straight sets."

Rafael Nadal, the 18-year-old Spaniard, won his 18th match in a row, defeating Lars Burgsmüller, of Germany, 6-1, 7-6, 6-1.

Lindsay Davenport, who was fortunate not to lose the women's No 1 ranking to Maria Sharapova while taking a month's rest, made a slow start against Katarina Srebotnik. The American dropped her serve three times in the opening set, but recovered to defeat the Slovakian 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

"At some point as a player, you have to make scheduling decisions, what you think is best overall for your career," Davenport said. "They expect us to play tournaments January through November. I was looking more long term than short term, hopefully to stay strong, fresh and injury free. That's about the last chunk of time I'm going to have until October."

Kim Clijsters was off and running almost before her damaged right knee realised the tournament had started. The Belgian 14th seed needed only 48 minutes to dispatch Meilen Tu, of the United States 6-1, 6-0.

"The knee felt pretty good today," Clijsters said, adding: "I have my list of exercises to do. That's something I think I'll have to do for the rest of my career."

* Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, will play mixed doubles with his 16-year-old sister, Michaella, at next month's Wimbledon.

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