There are mixed feelings among the top players about whether playing a warm-up tournament assists performance at Wimbledon, but those that did generally fared well on the opening day.
Both Halle finalists, the champion, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and the runner-up, Nicolas Kiefer, won yesterday, as did the runner-up in Birmingham and Eastbourne, Anastasia Myskina, and the Eastbourne semi-finalists, Daja Bedanova and Daniela Hantuchova.
But perhaps the most profitable pre-Wimbledon outings belonged to two former Grand Slam champions who may have lost in the first round last week but who posted good victories yesterday: Mary Pierce and Richard Krajicek.
Pierce came back from a series of spinal and ankle problems during the clay-court season and reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. Yesterday she built on that comeback with a laboured but ultimately successful 6-4, 4-6, 8-6 victory over Alicia Molik, and now plays an all-French second-round match against her fellow Frenchwoman, the eighth-seeded Sandrine Testud.
The Frenchwoman, who won the Australian Open in 1995 and the French in 2000, recovered from 4-2 down in the first set and was never behind in the decider, but needed six match points to nail her Australian opponent whose fortunes are in free-fall. Pierce looks as if she still has some work to do in the gym, but at 27 she showed that she with determination and a little luck along the way she could still be a factor in women's tennis.
Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, won his first match since November 2000 in beating the Argentinian claycourt specialist Franco Squillari 6-2 7-5 7-6. After having numerous knee problems in the early part of his career elbow surgery has kept the tall Dutchman off the tour in recent months, and even earlier this month he was not sure of his place at Wimbledon.
Krajicek now plays the rising American with the British mother, James Blake, who moved into the second round when his injury-prone Argentinian opponent, Mariano Zabaleta, retired with another injury. The winner of that will play either Andre Agassi or Paradorn Srichaphan, the Thai who beat the American qualifier Jack Brasington in a close five-setter.
Of those who shone in the run-up to Wimbledon, Kiefer had the toughest task, having to go five sets to beat the buccaneering Spaniard Juan Balcells 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3. Kiefer had won just four matches this year when he left Roland Garros, but he has now won nine after the four he won in Halle, and could go a fair way if he has not been too drained mentally by yesterday's efforts.
Myskina boldly predicted after reaching the Eastbourne final that she would make the last eight at Wimbledon, a prediction that looked reckless when she dropped the first four games to Eva Dyrberg of Denmark. But the Russian 18th seed came back to win 2-6, 6-1, 7-5, regrouping after dropping a 5-2 lead in the decider.
As Anna Kournikova made her usual rushed exit, the new queen of Wimbledon seems to be the Slovakian Hantuchova, who was the target of a host of photographers as she coasted to a 6-3, 6-2 victory against the Spaniard Cristina Torrens Valero on Court Six.
"People come to tennis and they just don't want to see a good game, but also a good show, and they want to have good entertainment," she said. "Maybe that's what they see when they come to watch me.
Under her English coach, Nigel Sears, Hantuchova has leapt from a year-opening ranking of number 38 to the brink of the top 10. "It's a really big advantage for me to have an English coach," she said. "I have always looked forward to playing on grass."
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