Venus has opening-day knockout

Lindsay Davenport returns a shot against Australian Casey Dellacqua during the Australian Open.

The Associated Press
Published: Monday, January 16, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 16, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.

Wimbledon champion Venus Williams crashed in the first round of the Australian Open on today, losing 2-6, 6-0, 9-7 to Tszvetana Pironkova.

It was only the third time in 34 Grand Slam tournaments that the five-time major winner has lost in the first round.

The 10th-seeded Williams sprayed 65 unforced errors, including 41 in the third set as she struggled to control her ground strokes in her first tour-level event since September.

Bulgaria's Pironkova, ranked 94th, was broken when she served for the match in the 12th game of the third set. She saved two break points in her next service game and clinched it on her first match point on consecutive backhand errors from Williams.

Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport had little trouble, advancing 6-2, 6-1 over Australian wild card entry Casey Dellacqua.

Davenport, seeking her fourth Grand Slam singles title and first since her win here in 2000, set up three match points with an ace and clinched it in 57 minutes with an overhead winner.

Davenport, a finalist here and at Wimbledon last year, next faces the winner of today's later match between Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine and Croatia's Karolina Sprem.

No. 9 Elena Dementieva was the first seeded player ousted from the season's first major. The 24-year-old Russian, a semifinalist at the last U.S. Open, lost 7-5, 6-2 to Germany's Julia Schruff.

Gaston Gaudio of Argentina, the eighth seed on the men's side, also had a shorter-than-expected opener. The 2004 French Open champion was leading 6-2, 5-0 when Romania's Razvan Sabau retired from their first-round match with an injured arm.

No. 13 Robby Ginepri only needed 1 hour, 19 minutes for a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over Austria's Jurgen Melzer.

In the first match on center court, Davenport overwhelmed the 20-year-old Dellacqua.

With Davenport serving at 4-2 in the first set, the left-handed Dellacqua had a break point at 30-40 to get back on serve, but dumped three straight shots into the net.

The Australian's fourth double-fault set up three set points for Davenport, who converted the third when Dellacqua sent a backhand long.

"It's great to be back," Davenport said, acknowledging that with retirement always a possibility at this point in her career, she never knows if she'll return again.

Men's No. 2 Andy Roddick opens later today against Michael Lammer, a 23-year-old qualifier from Switzerland.

If the men's draw plays out according to seedings, Roddick will meet another Swiss - top-ranked and overwhelming favorite Roger Federer - in the final.

But after a shocking first-round exit at the U.S. Open, Roddick is not planning any further ahead than tonight's encounter with Lammer on Rod Laver Arena.

Roddick lost his opening match at the U.S. Open last August to Gilles Muller of Luxembourg. The upset, on his 23rd birthday, stung Roddick and fueled some intense offseason workouts.

"To be completely frank, it really (ticked) me off, put a little bit of a chip on my shoulder," Roddick said. "It gave me something to prove. I feel more motivated for this than I ever have been."

In other men's matches Monday, Masters Cup champion David Nalbandian was facing Udomchoke Danai of Thailand and Sydney International winner James Blake was playing Jose Acasuso of Argentina.

Federer and No. 3-seeded Lleyton Hewitt start Tuesday.

On the women's side, defending champion Serena Williams was against China's Li Na in the first night match on center court and Venus Williams, seeded 10th, was to face Tszvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria.

Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, was playing Germany's Sandra Kloesel.

Justine Henin-Hardenne, the 2004 Australian Open winner and reigning French Open champion, went into her opening match against Marta Domachowska in form after winning the Sydney International on the weekend.

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