Lindsay Davenport, Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin-Hardenne were all tested during second-round matches at the Australian Open yesterday, displaying chinks of vulnerability that could be exploited as the tournament unfolds.
Critics of the women's game, and its supposed lack of depth, often point to the painfully one-sided matches typical of the first week of a Grand Slam. The trio of reigning and former champions all won in straight sets, but each struggled against opponents vastly inferior to them in the rankings.
Henin-Hardenne, the French Open title-holder and bookmakers' favourite at Melbourne Park, met some stiff resistance in the shape of a little-known Czech player, Hana Sromova. The Belgian No 8 seed won 7-6, 6-1, but only after Sromova had turned her ankle and fallento the ground.
Henin-Hardenne is convinced that the days when leading women could turn up at Grand Slams and stroll through the early rounds are gone forever. The game has changed and has so much depth in it now, she said, that even the best players have constantly to be on their guard.
"We have to be focused in every match because all these players, they want to beat us and they want to be at our place," said the Belgian, who was the Australian Open champion in 2004 but did not compete last year because of injury. "We need to be 100 per cent all the time. I think that's changed from a couple of years ago."
Davenport, the top seed, would doubtless agree. The American was taken to a tie-break in the first set by Karolina Sprem, of Croatia, before beating her 7-6, 6-3, afterwards acknowledging that she had not played "perfect tennis".
Sharapova, the Russian No 4, was probably glad to see the back of Sprem, too, not least because the latter turned up in the same dress as her: a floaty Jane Austen-style number from Nike's collection. The 2004 Wimbledon champion saved three set points at 5-4 down in the second set before dispatching Ashley Harkleroad 6-1, 7-5.
Serena Williams had a smoother passage into the third round, with a 6-3, 6-1 win over the Frenchwoman Camille Pin. But Williams played only 10 tournaments last year and does not look fit; it would surprise no one if she went the way of her sister, Venus, who was knocked out in the first round by a Bulgarian teenager, Tszvetana Pironkova.
Henin-Hardenne's compatriot, Kim Clijsters, is having a rather miserable time, having injured a hip muscle during the Sydney International last week. The No 2 seed, who is in the other half of the draw, was favourite for the title here until she withdrew from the warm-up tournament.
Looking most confident is Martina Hingis, who is making her Grand Slam comeback at Melbourne Park after retiring from the circuit three years ago.
Two women's seeds - the No 18, Elena Likhovtseva, and the No 23, Jelana Jankovic - departed yesterday, together with three leading men.
Robby Ginepri, the American No 13 seed, lost in five sets to Denis Gremelmayr, of Germany, while the No 17, Radek Stepanek, also went down in five, to Marco Baghdatis of Cyprus. Tomas Berdych, of the Czech Republic, ranked No 19, was beaten 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 by France's Gilles Simon.
Andy Roddick, the No 2, had an easy journey into the third round, with a straight sets win over South Africa's Wesley Moodie. Ivan Ljubicic, the Croatian No 7, and Gaston Gaudio of Argentina, the No 8, also advanced without dropping a set.
Australian Open results
SECOND ROUND: G GAUDIO (Arg) bt L Burgsmüller (Ger) 6-3 6-2 6-3; F Santoro (Fr) bt A Pavel (Rom) 6-4 6-1 6-4; M ANCIC (Croa) bt J Hernych (Cz Rep) 6-1 6-4 6-4; D FERRER (Sp) bt D Bracciali (It) 6-4 6-4 6-7 6-2; T ROBREDO (Sp) bt D Tursunov (Rus) 7-6 3-6 7-6 6-3; J BLAKE (US) bt J-C Faurel (Fr) 2-6 6-1 6-4 6-3; J NIEMINEN (Fin) bt Wang Yeu-Tzuoo (Taiw) 6-2 7-6 6-2; D NALBANDIAN (Arg) bt S Wawrinka (Swit) 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-2; I LJUBICIC (Croa) bt P Kohlschreiber (Ger) 7-5 6-2 6-1; F LOPEZ (Sp) bt G Muller (Lux) 6-2 6-4 6-7 6-4; G Simon (Fr) bt T BERDYCH (Cz Rep) 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-2; T JOHANSSON (Swe) bt X Malisse (Bel) 6-3 3-6 7-5 4-6 6-3; D Gremelmayr (Ger) bt R GINEPRI (US) 2-6 5-7 6-4 6-3 6-3; M Baghdatis (Cyp) bt R STEPANEK (Cz Rep) 6-4 6-3 3-6 0-6 7-5; J Benneteau (Fr) bt G Garcia-Lopez (Sp) 6-4 7-6 6-1; A RODDICK (US) bt W Moodie (SA) 7-5 6-3 6-2.
SECOND ROUND: L DAVENPORT (US) bt K Sprem (Croa) 7-6 6-3; M KIRILENKO (Rus) bt G Voskoboeva (Rus) 7-6 6-4; M Santangelo (It) bt K Srebotnik (Sloven) 7-6 5-7 6-3; S KUZNETSOVA (Rus) bt A Parra Santonja (Sp) 6-2 6-7 6-2; L Granville (US) bt T Pironkova (Bul) 7-5 6-2; V Ruano Pascual (Sp) bt E LIKHOVTSEVA (Rus) 6-4 6-4; V Razzano (Fr) bt C Martinez Granados (Sp) 7-6 6-3; J HENIN-HARDENNE (Bel) bt H Sromova (Cz Rep) 7-6 6-1; M SHARAPOVA (Rus) bt A Harkleroad (US) 6-1 7-5; J Kostanic (Croa) bt Z Ondraskova (Cz Rep) 6-2 6-1; D HANTUCHOVA (Slovak) bt A Amanmuradov (Uzb) 6-4 6-1; S WILLIAMS (US) bt C Pin (Fr) 6-3 6-1; E Vesnina (Rus) bt J Schruff (Ger) 6-0 7-5; O Savchuk (Ukr) bt J JANKOVIC (Serb-M) 6-3 6-4; M E Camerin (It) bt E Bychkova (Rus) 4-6 7-6 6-2; N PETROVA (Rus) bt M Müller (Ger) 6-4 6-1.
FIRST ROUND: J I Chela and G Gaudio (Arg) bt M Baghdatis (Cyp) and D Skoch (Cz Rep) 6-1 6-2; C Ball and A Coelho (Aus) bt P Goldstein and J Thomas (US) 7-5 2-6 7-6; J ERLICH and A RAM (Isr) bt J Monaco (Arg) and A Montanes (Sp) 6-3 6-2; J Coetzee (SA) and R Wassen (Neth) bt C Guccione and N Healey (Aus) 3-6 6-4 6-4; J KNOWLE and J MELZER (Aut) bt R Gasquet and S Grosjean (Fr) 6-4 6-4; S ASPELIN (Swe) and T PERRY (Aus) bt M Garcia (Arg) and L Horna (Peru) 6-3 6-4; M Fyrstenberg and M Matkowski (Pol) bt D Sanguinetti and P Starace (It) 6-3 6-7 6-1; D HRBATY and M MERTINAK (Slovak) bt G Galimberti (It) and J Levinsky (Cz Rep) 6-4 6-1; A Fisher (Aus) and J Gimelstob (US) bt C Moya (Sp) and M Zabaleta (Arg) 6-2 7-6; D Norman (Bel) and V Spadea (US) bt M KNOWLES (Bah) and D NESTOR (Can) 6-4 7-6; M DAMM (Cz Rep) and L PAES (Ind) bt P Luczak and S Nettle (Aus) 6-3 6-2; A Clement and M Llodra (Fr) bt P Kohlschreiber and F Mayer (Ger) 6-4 6-3; J ACASUSO and S PRIETO (Arg) bt I Andreev and N Davydenko (Rus) 6-7 6-4 7-6; C Haggard (SA) and H Levy (Isr) bt M Gicquel and G Monfils (Fr) 6-3 6-2; Y Allegro (Swit) and K Vliegen (Bel) bt L Burgsmüller and B Phau (Ger) 6-3 6-2.
FIRST ROUND: L RAYMOND (US) and S STOSUR (Aus) bt N Llagostera Vives (Sp) and M Vento-Kabchi (Ven) 6-3 4-6 6-1; M Ani (Est) and A Vanc (Rom) bt Chuang Chia-Jung (Taiw) and R Fujiwara (Japan) 6-2 7-5; C Dellacqua and T Musgrave (Aus) bt G Navratilova and M Pastikova (Cz Rep) 7-6 2-6 6-1; LI TING and SUN TIAN TIAN (Ch) bt Y Beygelzimer (Ukr) and M Jugic-Salkic (Bos) 6-4 4-6 6-4; M Adamczak and C Horiatopolous (Aus) bt L McShea and B Stewart (Aus) 7-6 3-6 6-4; Na Li and Shuai Peng (Ch) bt M E Salerni (Arg) and M Sequera (Ven) 6-2 6-3; S Foretz (Fr) and Antonella Serra-Zanetti (It) bt S Klösol (Ger) and M Koryttseva (Ukr) 6-1 6-0; K Brandi (PR) and C Castano (Col) bt L Breadmore and D Dominikovic (Aus) 6-1 6-3; A-L GRONEFELD (Ger) and M SHAUGHNESSY (US) bt E Birnerova (Cz Rep) and M Santangelo (It) 6-4 6-1; L Dominguez Lino and M A Sanchez-Lorenzo (Sp) bt S Arvidsson (Swe) and S Bammer (Aut) 6-3 6-4; S Bremond (Fr) and S Sfar (Tun) bt Cho Yoon-Jeong (S Kor) and A Nakamura (Japan) 6-4 6-2; J Craybas and M Tu (US) bt S McDowell and J Moore (Aus) 6-3 6-0; L HUBER (SA) and F SCHIAVONE (It) bt I Benesova (Cz Rep) and J Kostanic (Croa) 6-2 4-6 6-3; Hsieh Su-Wei (Taiw) and T Tanasugarn (Thai) bt M Domachowska (Pol) and R Vinci (It) 7-5 6-0; M Krajicek (Neth) and A Szavay (Hun) bt E DANIILIDOU (Gr) and A MEDINA GARRIGUES (Sp) 7-5 4-6 6-4; A Frazier (US) and J Lee (Taiw) bt L Dekmeijere (Lat) and M Diaz-Oliva (Arg) 6-2 6-0; C BLACK (Zim) and R STUBBS (Aus) bt L Pous Tio (Sp) and M Washington (US) 6-2 6-1.
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