Kournikova survives first match on clay

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The Independent Online

Winning seemed like torture at times for Anna Kournikova, who survived a mistake-riddled match at the Bausch and Lomb Championships in Amelia Island, Florida today, for a 7-5, 7-6 (4) victory over Anne Kremer.

In the first tournament of the clay-court season for the women, the seventh-seeded Kournikova looked tentative and frustrated, banging backhands into the net and her racket onto the court at Amelia Island Plantation.

Trailing 4-5 in the second, she saved a pair of set points, both off unforced errors on forehands by Kremer. The 18-year-old Russian won the game, forced a tiebreaker, and after winning that at 7-4 she smiled for the first time.

"It was a tough match because Anne's one of the most patient players on tour," Kournikova said. "She brings back a lot of balls, she's very consistent. You have to make her make mistakes or you have to make winners."

Other winners included 16th-seeded Lisa Raymond, who defeated Jennifer Hopkins 6-4, 0-6, 6-1; eighth-seeded Barbara Schett, who beat Gala Leon Garcia 6-2, 6-2; and 10th-seeded Amanda Coetzer, who defeated Tatiana Panova 6-0, 6-4.

Serena Williams and 1995 champion Conchita Martinez play tonight. Mary Pierce and defending champion Monica Seles play their first matches on Wednesday.

It has been a month of distractions for Kournikova, who said on her internet site that she and hockey star Pavel Bure were never engaged after a Russian newspaper reported that the supposed engagement had been called off.

"It is hard for me to understand that some people believe everything they see in the media, and I should have said something sooner," Kournikova wrote on the site, www.kournikova.com.

Kournikova also nearly got tossed off a commercial airline flight two weeks ago, when she and her mother refused to put her miniature Doberman pinscher in its carrying case.

But most of her problems today were on the court, where she had trouble keeping balls in play.

No statistics on unforced errors were kept, but it was easy to see this wasn't a great afternoon for Kournikova. Off tempo with her serve and her ground strokes, she berated herself throughout the match, often looking to her mother and coach, seemingly searching for answers.

"Some mistakes I made from being tired at the end of a point or not being able to have good balance because it's clay," Kournikova said. "Mostly, it's just that it's the first match on clay. I've played Anne a couple of times and won in two sets. It shouldn't be a match for me to worry about."

The 14th-ranked player in the world, Kournikova is still seeking her first victory on the Sanex WTA tour.

"I don't feel I have to get it behind me," she said. "I'm just out there playing, trying to improve every match. I think the ranking is most important."

Results from the $535,000 Bausch and Lomb Championships in Amelia Island, Florida:

Singles First Round

Henrieta Nagyova (Slovak) def. Tina Pisnik (Sloven) 6-0, 6-2. Anastasia Myskina (Rus) def. Erika de Lone (US) 6-4, 6-1. (10) Amanda Coetzer (SA) def. Tatiana Panova (Rus) 6-0, 6-4. (16) Lisa Raymond (US) def. Jennifer Hopkins (US) 6-4, 0-6, 6-1. Asa Carlsson (Swe) def. (13) Ruxandra Dragomir (Rom) 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. Corina Morariu (US) def. Emmanuelle Gagliardi (Swit) 6-4, 6-4. Nicole Pratt (Aus) def. Fabiola Zuluaga (Col) 6-4, 7-6. Anna Smashnova (Isr) def. Iva Majoli (Cro) 6-3, 6-1. Tara Snyder (US) def. Kristina Brandi (US) 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Second Round

(7) Anna Kournikova (Rus) def. Anne Kremer (Lux) 7-5, 7-6 (4). (8) Barbara Schett (Aut) def. Gala Leon Garcia (Sp) 6-2, 6-2.