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French champ's feet turn to clay in 1st round


WIMBLEDON, England - On paper, French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne, ranked No. 7 in the world, was a sure bet to defeat No. 76 Eleni Daniilidou in their first-round match yesterday at Wimbledon.

Fortunately for Daniilidou - and unfortunately for the bookies' match favorite - Wimbledon isn't played on paper. It's played on grass.

And Henin-Hardenne's time away from the turf - she hadn't played on it for two years before yesterday - contributed mightily to her early and unexpected departure from the tournament.

Daniilidou scored a thrilling 7-6 (10-8), 2-6, 7-5 upset, knocking out the player many believed would win the women's singles.

"It's pretty hard," a dejected Henin-Hardenne said following the match. "But it's tennis. It's life. You have to keep going."

She became the first Roland Garros women's champion since 1962 to lose her opening match at Wimbledon, where she was runner-up in 2001 but will remain, at least for another year, the only Grand Slam tournament the Belgian has yet to win.

Her loss eliminates a major threat to defending champion Maria Sharapova - and several others who have legitimate shots at the throne in this wide-open women's tournament. Sharapova cruised yesterday to a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Nuria Llagostera Vives, with play that sparkled as brightly as her match-day footwear: a pair of shoes trimmed with 18-karat gold.

On the men's side, Britain's Tim Henman was within one set of being bounced out of Centre Court in the first round. The No. 6 seed was down two sets to Jarkko Nieminen before bringing the crowd to its feet by taking the final three sets to win, 3-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.

The men's French Open champion and the new rock star of tennis, 19-year-old Rafael Nadal, wore his knickerbocker-like trousers on Centre Court and convincingly beat American Vince Spadea, 6-4, 6-3, 6-0.

And Andy Roddick began his quest for a rematch with Roger Federer in the finals by defeating Jiri Vanek, 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-2, firing 14 aces to win in only 82 minutes.

He'll play Daniele Bracciali in Round 2, who did Roddick the favor of eliminating Ivo Karlovic, the 6-foot-10 Croatian who two years ago knocked defending champion Lleyton Hewitt out of the tournament in the first round. Bracciali won the marathon match, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (8), 3-6, 7-6 (5), 12-10.

But the buzz yesterday was all about Henin-Hardenne. After losing the first set, she rallied to take the second and in the final she showed flashes of the power and placement that earned her four Grand Slam titles.

The problem was, she needed those flashes to rescue her for so much sloppy play.

She double-faulted 11 times and committed 48 unforced errors. If either player seemed unsettled by nerves, it was she and not the Greek.

"Justine is a great player, but everyone is a little shaky at times during a match," Daniilidou said. "I think today I was a little bit better with that."

In the final set, Henin-Hardenne seemed as though she might avoid the upset. She pulled even from a 4-2 deficit, then survived two match points in the 10th game to make it 5-all, and Daniilidou seemed to be fading into one of those players who would forever have to live with coming close - but only close.

Henin-Hardenne appeared exhausted from merely trying to survive, double-faulting twice in the final game, including on the final point of the match.

Tennis players at the professional level say a match on grass is a whole different game than one played on clay because of the bounce of the ball and the footwork required.

Henin-Hardenne's last match on grass was here two years ago, when she lost in the semifinals to Serena Williams.

"Playing on clay and then coming here, it's so different," she said, emphasizing she has no excuses for her play and that her opponent earned the victory. "You change everything. It's not in a few days you get used to it."

In Sharapova's victory yesterday, she hit six aces, faced only one break point and used her considerable reach to pluck balls from all over her side of the court and send them to unpluckable corners on the other side.

She next plays 15-year-old Sesil Karatancheva, who beat Amanda Janes, 7-5, 6-7 (6), 7-5.

Two-time champion Venus Williams - remember her? - seeded 14th, won five consecutive games during one stretch and beat Eva Birnerova, 6-2, 6-4.

Serena Williams defeated Angela Haynes, 6-7 (12), 6-4, 6-2.

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