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Tszvetana Pironkova eclipses Venus Williams

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ON CLOUD NINE: Tszvetana Pironkova is elated after defeating Wimbledon champion Venus Williams at the Australian Open on Monday. PHOTO: AP
ON CLOUD NINE: Tszvetana Pironkova is elated after defeating Wimbledon champion Venus Williams at the Australian Open on Monday. PHOTO: AP

Elena Dementieva bows outFormer No. 1 Carlos Moya loses

MELBOURNE: For one set, Venus Williams looked every bit the reigning Wimbledon champion. Then, the rust of a long layoff caught up with her in a flurry of errors on Monday as she was knocked out of the Australian Open in the first round by Bulgaria's Tszvetana Pironkova 2-6, 6-0, 9-7 in 2-1/2 hours.

''I couldn't get it right today. But in general, I am playing really well,'' said Williams, who hadn't played at tour level since late September. ''It's just like, 'Wow, it was the wrong time to hit wrong.'''

Venus wasn't the only one to struggle in the season-opening Grand Slam event.

Her sister, defending champion Serena, had her own lapses and survived a major workout from 52nd-ranked Li Na of China, who frequently had her breathless from running sideline to sideline.

Serena, seeded 13th, was broken as she served for the match at 5-4 in the second set - double-faulting twice at 15-30 - and won only one point in the tiebreak before she pulled herself back together and finished off a 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-2 victory.

Reflecting on her missed chance in the second set, Serena said: ''Everyone chokes. I choked today.''

After finding herself down a break in the first game of the third set, she got angry.

''I felt as if the match should have been over and I shouldn't even have been out there at that point.''

Top-seeded Lindsay Davenport needed a few games to find her groove before advancing with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Australian wild-card entry Casey Dellacqua.

Masters Cup champion David Nalbandian was cruising, then had to fend off a gutsy comeback attempt by Thai qualifier Danai Udomchoke to win 6-2, 6-2, 1-6, 6-7(4), 6-1.

Easy

Fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova showed no signs of her sore right shoulder bothering her, smacking 20 winners while downing Germany's Sandra Kloesel 6-2, 6-1. Second-seeded Andy Roddick, rebounding from a first-round loss at the U.S. Open, didn't get the first ace from his powerful serve until the second set but still had minimal trouble in beating Switzerland's Michael Lammer 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. He ended up with seven aces, the last on match point.

The 18-year-old Pironkova, ranked 94th, said Williams had been one of her idols, but she managed to put that aside. After a nervous start, she relaxed in front of a packed Vodafone Arena that included a batch of rowdy Bulgarians who waved the national flag and cheered her loudly.

Serena survives

Serena Williams was facing the prospect of losing in the first round of a Grand Slam for the first time. Plagued by foot faults and 45 unforced errors, she survived by being her best under pressure, saving 11 of Li's 14 break points. She fended off two while serving for the first set at 5-4 but couldn't hold off Li in the second, looking increasingly tired and disconsolate as her mistakes piled up in a near-echo of Venus' match.

Li, who had 23 winners to Williams' 21, broke in the first game of the final set and looked to be on a roll. But as she has done numerous times before, Serena simply refused to lose, breaking Li three times the rest of the way.

Eighth-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, the 2004 winner here, beat Marta Domchowska of Poland 6-2, 6-2. Former Wimbledon semifinalist Jelena Dokic, a wild card in her first Australian Open since 2001, crumbled after thinking she'd won in straight sets. Dokic celebrated a forehand on match point at 6-5 in the second set, but it was called long. Virginie Razzano of France rallied to win 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-1.

No. 9 Elena Dementieva, a semifinalist at the last U.S. Open, was the first seeded player to fall, losing 7-5, 6-2 to Germany's Julia Schruff.

On the men's side, No. 8 seed Gaston Gaudio, the 2004 French Open champion, was leading 6-2, 5-0 when Romania's Razvan Sabau retired with an injured arm.

Also advancing were No. 7 Ivan Ljubicic, No. 11 David Ferrer, No. 13 Robby Ginepri, No. 16 Tommy Robredo, No. 17 Radek Stepanek, No. 18 Mario Ancic and No. 20 James Blake, the winner in Sydney last week.

No. 27 Taylor Dent lost to Spain's Guillermo Garcia Lopez and former No. 1-ranked Carlos Moya went down to Andrei Pavel. - AP

Prefix denotes seedings

Men's singles (first round): 8-Gaston Gaudio (Arg) bt Razvan Sabau (Rom) 6-2, 5-0 (retd.); 13-Robby Ginepri (U.S.) bt Jurgen Melzer (Aut) 6-1, 6-4, 6-2; 17-Radek Stepanek (Cze) bt Bjorn Rehnquist (Swe) 6-1, 6-2, 6-2; Denis Gremelmayr (Ger) bt Jonas Bjorkman (Swe) 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-1; 11-David Ferrer (Esp) bt Florent Serra (Fra) 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4; Lars Burgsmuller (Ger) bt Rainer Schuettler (Ger) 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3; 26-Jarkko Nieminen (Fin) bt Marc Kimmich (Aus) 6-2, 6-3, 6-1; Marcos Baghdatis (Cyp) bt Justin Gimelstob (U.S.) 7-6(6), 7-5, 6-0; 4-David Nalbandian (Arg) bt Danai Udomchoke (Tha) 6-2, 6-2, 1-6, 6-7(4), 6-1; 18-Mario Ancic (Cro) bt Agustin Calleri (Arg) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4; 31-Feliciano Lopez (Esp) bt Tomas Behrend (Ger) 6-2, 7-5, 6-3; Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (Esp) bt 27-Taylor Dent (U.S.) 7-6(4), 6-3, 7-6(4); Fabrice Santoro (Fra) bt Vincent Spadea (U.S.) 3-6, 6-0, 6-2, 6-3; Andrei Pavel (Rom) bt 23-Carlos Moya (Esp) 6-4, 7-6(5), 4-6, 3-6, 6-4; 16-Tommy Robredo (Esp) bt Jiri Vanek, Czech Republic, 6-4, 7-6(6), 6-3; 7-Ivan Ljubicic (Cro) bt Chris Guccione (Aus) 7-6(5), 6-4, 7-6(3); 19-Tomas Berdych (Cze) bt Bobby Reynolds (U.S.) 7-5, 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-1; 20-James Blake (U.S.) bt Jose Acasuso (Arg) 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(4); 10-Thomas Johansson (Swe) bt Cyril Saulnier (Fra) 6-1, 7-6(3), 6-4; Dmitry Tursunov (Rus) bt Tim Henman (Brit) 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5; 2-Andy Roddick (U.S.) bt Michael Lammer (Sui) 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

Women's singles (first round): 1-Lindsay Davenport (U.S.) bt Casey Dellacqua (Aus) 6-2, 6-1; Julia Schruff (Ger) bt 9-Elena Dementieva (Rus) 7-5, 6-2; 17-Daniela Hantuchova (Svk) bt Saori Obata (Jpn) 3-6, 6-3, 6-0; Mara Santangelo (Ita) bt 24-Tatiana Golovin (Fra) 6-4, 4-6, 6-4; Conchita Martinez Granados (Esp) bt 26-Ai Sugiyama (Jpn) 6-4, 6-3; 6-Nadia Petrova (Rus) bt Sophie Ferguson (Aus) 6-2, 6-1; Virginie Razzano (Fra) bt Jelena Dokic (Aus) 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-1; 25-Maria Kirilenko (Rus) bt Evgenia Linetskaya (Rus) 6-1, 3-1 (retd.); 23-Jelena Jankovic (SCG) bt Jill Craybas (U.S.) 6-2, 4-6, 6-4; Tsvetana Pironkova (Bul) bt 10-Venus Williams (U.S.) 2-6, 6-0, 9-7; 4-Maria Sharapova (Rus) bt Sandra Kloesel (Ger) 6-2, 6-1; 14-Svetlana Kuznetsova (Rus) bt Lauren Breadmore (Aut) 6-1, 6-3; 8-Justine Henin-Hardenne (Bel) bt Marta Domachowska (Pol) 6-2, 6-1; 18-Elena Likhovtseva (Rus) bt Lisa Raymond (U.S.) 7-6(4), 7-6(5); Ekaterina Bychkova (Rus) bt 29-Klara Koukalova (Cze) 6-1, 5-7, 6-2; 13-Serena Williams (U.S.) bt Li Na (Chn) 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-2.

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