Thailand star sharp in first round

USA's Venus Williams is on her way to a 6-4, 6-2, victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova from Russia at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Monday.

AP Photo/Rick Stevens
Published: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 1:02 a.m.

MELBOURNE, Australia - Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan started center court play at the Australian Open on Monday with power and precision.

The 11th-seeded Paradorn, who improved his ranking by 110 places in 2002, beat Austrian Jurgen Melzer 7-5, 6-4, 1-6, 6-0.

Paradorn bowed Thai-style, with folded hands, to the crowd in Rod Laver Arena after forcing repeated errors by Melzer in the final set and watching a forehand volley by the Austrian sail long on the second match point.

The honor of starting play in the main stadium went to Paradorn after a year in which he won two titles and scored victories over Andre Agassi - at Wimbledon - Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin. He warmed up for the Open by winning another tournament earlier this month in India.

Paradorn's best result at past Australian Opens was reaching the second round in 2000. Against Melzer, he placed his serves effectively, kept the Austrian off balance with a crisp backhand and generally controlled play from the baseline.

Anna Kournikova, unseeded after a year in which she lost in the first round at all four Grand Slams, defeated Slovakia's Henrieta Nagyova 6-1, 6-2.

French Open champion Albert Costa needed more than three hours for a 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (5) victory over German veteran David Prinosil, who had to qualify for this tournament.

Costa, seeded eighth, reached the Top 10 for the first time last year despite skipping Wimbledon to concentrate on his new marriage. He wed longtime girlfriend Cristina Ventura five days after winning at Roland Garros.

Wayne Ferreira, playing in his 50th Grand Slam tournament, ousted Tommy Robredo 5-7, 6-0, 6-3, 6-4.

In other results, No. 5 Justine Henin-Hardenne, a Wimbledon semifinalist last year, defeated 17-year-old Swiss player Myriam Casanova 6-3, 6-4. No. 21 Ai Sugiyama of Japan beat Indonesia's Angelique Widjaja 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.

For Agassi and Serena Williams, just starting the Australian Open is an improvement from last year.

Both were hurt right before the 2002 tournament. That wiped out Agassi's hopes of winning a third straight Australian Open and, it turned out, Williams' winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in one calendar year.

Williams twisted her right ankle chasing a drop shot in a warmup tournament in Sydney. When she recovered, she was just about invincible, winning the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open and moving up to No. 1 in the rankings.

In the two weeks starting Monday, she is trying for a ``Serena Slam'' as reigning champion of all four major tournaments.

The last woman to do that was Steffi Graf, who added the 1994 Australian title to her victories in the other majors in 1993. Graf also is one of only three women with a true Grand Slam. She did that in 1988, following Maureen Connolly in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970.

Serena wants to be the fourth.

``I want to be undefeated'' in 2003, she said.

That probably would mean more victories against older sister Venus, the runner-up to Serena at three Grand Slam events in 2002. If they meet in Australia, it only would be in the final because Venus - who has four major titles to her credit - is seeded second.

Neither sister has reached an Australian Open final. Serena's best result was reaching the quarterfinals in 2001. Venus reached the semifinals that year.

After playing well in the United States' victory in the Hopman Cup, Serena skipped this year's Sydney tournament.

In contrast, Agassi went right back to the Kooyong Classic exhibition event, where he hurt his right wrist in losing last year's final to Pete Sampras.

He won the Australian Open after winning at Kooyong in 2000 and 2001, and he won at Kooyong again Saturday, beating Sebastien Grosjean 6-2, 6-3 in the final.

``This week I felt real good, a lot better a lot sooner than I was even hoping,'' said the 32-year-old American, oldest among the seeded men in the Open.

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