Venus power prevails over Japanese grit

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The Independent Online

Martina Hingis may already be homeward bound, but Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport are staying around, and future opponents must expect that the rustiness the pair showed yesterday will quickly wear off.

The day after the top seed was sent on her way by a little-known Spaniard, Williams won a patchy 6-2, 6-3 victory in her first match on grass (excluding playing Serena in the back garden in Florida) since taking the championship last July, against Shinobu Asagoe, a plucky Japanese opponent who had not won a match since February but lived up to her name and had a go.

As the champion reeled off the first three games, it was looking like one of those catchweight mis-matches in which she towers physically and psychologically over an opponent. The 5ft 7in Japanese then won a game from 15-40, to huge cheers, and grew in confidence, if not stature.

She broke in the next game, only to find that Williams was not having any of that nonsense, breaking back to love, aceing Asagoe for 5-2 and taking the eighth game, after further stubborn resistance, on a seventh set point.

Often, the stronger player in such circumstances runs through the second set. Despite the scoreline, that was not the case, for the Japanese broke immediately, and, then had two points for a 4-1 lead. She was unable to convert them and instead found Williams breaking her twice, for 3-3 and 5-3 before securing victory.

"I think I played OK for a first-round match," Williams said. "I had the opportunity to hit a lot of balls which is always good. I felt really motivated, there's no better feeling than walking out on Centre Court, but I didn't feel any extra pressure [as champion]."

Williams' father, Richard, had earlier denied asking the Lawn Tennis Association for a fee of £200,000 for Venus and Serena to do some coaching in Britain's inner cities, a vague promise made by the sisters in the euphoria of last year's Wimbledon successes. Venus said: "I think you've got to stop pressurising."

Davenport, who only returned to any surface at all last week at Eastbourne, after three weeks off with a knee injury, was philosophical with the number of errors in her 6-3, 6-3 victory over Slovakia's Martina Sucha.

"Its always been tough the first round or two and what I've learnt is that it's just important to get through them," she said."The knee is 100 per cent and things normally turn around. I can get better and better as it goes on."

Two years on from her stunning first-round victory over Hingis as a 16 year-old qualifier, Jelena Dokic made harder work of seeing off Paraguay's Rossana de los Rios, one of the few mothers on the WTA tour. Even at 18 the frail-looking Dokic must still inspire motherly instincts, even if it would be a brave woman who took on her father Damir, whose latest brush with Wimbledon officials involved being asked not to smoke his pipe at court-side.

A semi-finalist last year, beaten by Davenport, Dokic has broken into the top 20 for the first time, but can still look as vulnerable as she does miserable. De los Rios, who lost to her at the Sydney Olympics, might have taken advantage in a first set containing five service breaks, Dokic claiming the fifth of them to take it 7-5.

Only in the second set did she break free, taking it 6-1 to the approval of the Australians in the Court Three crowd, who seemed to have forgiven her "defection" to Yugoslavia.

Then it was back to the laundry: Dokic likes to wear the same outfit for every match, and a look at the draw suggests there will be another rinse or two to come yet.

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