Kournikova bounces out of Open

Seventy three tournaments and the lady still hasn't won a coconut, never mind a cup. But if Anna Kournikova is concerned about her inability to land a first title, it doesn't show. And why should it? She is already acknowledged as the biggest-earning female athlete, ever.

Seventy three tournaments and the lady still hasn't won a coconut, never mind a cup. But if Anna Kournikova is concerned about her inability to land a first title, it doesn't show. And why should it? She is already acknowledged as the biggest-earning female athlete, ever.

Her latest conqueror, in the third round of the US Open yesterday, was Justine Henin, a Belgian who, at 18, is a year younger than the Russian sexpot and, on this evidence, a better player already. Henin, wielding a backhand exquisite in construction and devastating in execution, put out the twelfth-seeded Kournikova 6-4 7-6.

Anna hit no aces, perpetrated four double-faults and in the opinion of John McEnroe from his TV commentary box, "Her serve is worse than ever." But, as ever, she wowed a crowd as near to capacity as they will ever get in the Arthur Ashe Stadiium, where the seats which offer the chance to talk to passing aircraft are never sold out. The audience included a group of blonde-wigged, hairy-chested male fans of Anna's, but there was nothing they, or anyone else, could do to lift her in a contest she failed to seize, even when the opportunity arose, as it frequently did.

As Kournikova exited for another round of photo-shoots and assorted money opportunities she was replaced by Elena Dementieva, also a leggy Russian blonde but considerably less famous, despite having beaten Venus Williams in last year's Fed Cup final between Russia and the United States. Yet Dementieva, a Moscow native and 18 years old, is emerging as a better prospect at the game of tennis than her compatriot. Another confident display yesterday eliminated the seventh seed, Conchita Martinez, 6-4 6-1.

Those matches apart, the women's seeds massed confidently for what should be a fascinating second week. There are eleven seeds remaining, with all the main contenders still swinging away.

The defending champion, Serena Williams, celebrated her third straight-sets victory, beating the Italian, Giulia Casoni, 6-4 6-2. Casoni hails from Ferrara, home of the Borgias, and the only hope she had of winning this one was to slip something evil into Serena's courtside drink. That awesome prospect, a final between the Williams sisters, remains very much on the cards.

For Venus, the streak goes on. She clocked up her 22nd consecutive win, the best on the women's tour this year, in beating Meghann Shaughnessy, a 21-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona, 7-6 6-1. However, the Wimbledon champion was given such a torrid time in the first set on a sultry evening of high humidity that her bright orange dress was soon saturated.

Shaughnessy startled Venus by slamming the ball at, and past, her harder than than she herself wallops it and led 3-0. Three times the Williams serve was broken in an hour-long opening set and if the stick-thin Shaughnessy's service had been on a par with the rest of her game we might have witnessed the first sensation of the women's event.

Even in the tiebreak Venus obliged her opponent by contributing a couple of double-faults but, just in time, she remembered her pedigree, reeled off five straight points to win the first set and as the fizz went out of Shaughnessy's hitting and her resolve wavered, Williams galloped away with the second set in a brisk 22 minutes.

Asked if she regarded the match as a wake-up call, Venus offered a dismissive smile and went on to bemoan the fact that her next opponent is the sturdy Spanish journeywoman Magui Serna. "I would prefer to face a higher-ranked player," she said. That opportunity will come soon enough, with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who beat her at the French Open, waiting in the quarter-finals and top seed Martina Hingis in the semis.

Lindsay Davenport is motoring nicely, too. She put away Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-2 6-1 in not much more than the time it takes to read out her Thai opponent's name. Now, having put out one Belgian teenage prospect, Kim Clijsters, in the second round, Davenport faces another, Henin. And she will not have forgotten how close Henin came to beating her at Roland Garros last year.

Another teenager, the troubled Jelena Dokic of Australia via Serbia, struggled to put away the lowly-rated Italian, Francesca Schiavone, 7-6 7-5.

She refused to answer any questions about her dreadful Dad, Damir, banned from the tournament for abusive behaviour yet again, but offered a glimpse of the strain she is playing through with the comment, "The main thing is not to worry about what happens off court, but sometimes it's hard to do that." perhaps Anna Kournikova should take note of that remark.

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