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Harkleroad, 18, pulls French upset

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PARIS - Maybe it wasn't the shriek heard round the world, but it couldn't have been missed in any part of the bullring-shaped No. 1 court at Roland Garros.

"My ears are still ringing," agent Jill Smoller said jokingly yesterday, a half-hour after Ashley Harkleroad had pulled the first big upset of the women's tournament at the French Open.

Harkleroad, an 18-year-old USTA ingenue, whipped No. 9 seed Daniela Hantuchova, 7-6 (2), 4-6, 9-7, in a 3-hour, 8-minute match that was so filled with ups and downs it felt at times like an 80-mile-an-hour ride on a ribbon road.

Even before Hantuchova's final shot, a forehand aimed down the line, touched the red clay wide of the sideline, Harkleroad had begun her piercing scream of joy.

She had been running frantically toward her backhand side for the ball and, when she knew it would be out, changed direction without losing a step.

Then she let fly her racket and raced to Smoller and her father, Danny Harkleroad, who were sitting side by side in the front row just behind the chair umpire, and delivered possibly the two biggest hugs of the tournament.

Harkleroad's upset was one of two yesterday, both on the women's side, though men's No. 2 Andre Agassi was nearly blistered out of the tournament by the young Croatian Mario Ancic, who delivered about 1:35 of impossibly hot shot-making before exhausting his supply of magic.

Agassi won, 5-7, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5, to move into the third round against Xavier Malisse, who needed five sets to turn back Stefan Koubek. Other top seeds advancing: No. 4 Carlos Moya, one of the favorites here, and No. 7 Guillermo Coria, No. 11 Rainer Schuettler and No. 13 Jiri Novak.

Defending champion and No. 1 seed Serena Williams needed only 1:06 to defeat Marie-Gaiane Mikaelian of Switzerland, 6-3, 6-2, and move into the third round with No. 4 Justine Henin-Hardenne, No. 5 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 8 Chanda Rubin, No. 14 Eleni Daniilidou and No. 16 Ai Sugiyama.

Russia's Anastasia Myskina, seeded 11th, was upset by Petra Mandula of Hungary.

But the best story of the day was Harkleroad, who, because she grew up in Flintstone, Ga., had to endure years of being nicknamed Pebbles by other junior players.

"Being here at Roland Garros, you know ... really ... I mean, I love it here. I always play well here," she said.

This was more than the biggest win of her life. This victory raised the spirits of every USTA coach - and there were four of them watching this match - who had suffered through two days of despondent losses by young American players.

Andy Roddick. Brian Vahaly. Mardy Fish. Alex Kim. Sarah Taylor. Ansley Cargill. They all went down. James Blake came through the opening round, but he had to beat a fellow American, Taylor Dent, who lost in straight sets.

Harkleroad's victory ships her into the third round against Spanish lefty Magui Serna. If Harkleroad wins that, a probable round-of-16 clash with Mauresmo awaits.

She has solid ground strokes off both sides, with tight topspin on her forehand side. Nothing, however, in her shot arsenal can top her competitiveness.

"I don't think you can teach anybody that and I don't think anyone taught me that. That's just the way I am. That's my personality," she said, describing her fighting attitude. "I've always been like that, ever since I was like 8 years old."

She needed all that feistiness when she blew a 5-1 lead in the third set and found herself at 5-6 on the brink of defeat.

"When it got to 6-all in the third set, you could see a lot of self-confidence on her face," Berger said. "Even when she was down, she kept fighting."

Charles Bricker is a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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