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V. Williams out in first round

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Wimbledon champion Venus Williams crashed in the first round of the Australian Open 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 ninth game of the third set.

Williams, who also had a chance to serve for the match in the 12th game, gave Pironkova match point with a backhand into the net and surrendered the 2-hour, 28-minute match on another backhand error.

The match turned against Williams when she missed a routine overhead in the first game of the second set that could have given her two break points.

Pironkova held and went on a six-game winning stretch.

After trading breaks to open the deciding set, Pironkova was serving for the match at 5-3 before Williams rallied, winning three straight games and getting a chance to serve for the match at 6-5.

Williams was broken in that game on a forehand error, then looked up at the sky in a mixture of frustration and disbelief. She lost in the first round at Wimbledon in 1997 and at the French Open in 2001. Her previous earliest exit in Australia was in the third round.

Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 win over Australian wild-card entry Casey Dellacqua, ranked No. 180.

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

Davenport next faces Croatia's Karolina Sprem, a 6-4, 6-2 winner over Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine.

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.

No. 24 Tatiana Golovin and No. 26 Ai Sugiyama followed her out.

Former Wimbledon semifinalist Jelena Dokic, who won a wild-card tournament to gain entry to her first Australian Open since 2001, crumbled after thinking she'd won her first-round match in straight sets.

Dokic celebrated a forehand on match point in the 12th game of the second set, but it was called long.

Virginie Razzano rallied to win it, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1.

Davenport spent all but seven weeks atop the rankings in 2005 and reached the finals here and at Wimbledon.

She has a new coach - David DiLucia - and a difficult draw at Melbourne Park, with 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and French Open champion Justin Henin-Hardenne in her quarter.

"I feel like I'm ready for the challenges," said Davenport, 29. "I feel like I have the ability to play well and hopefully repeat what happened last year, and go better."

Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova, seeded 17th, overcame Japan's Saori Obata, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0, and No. 6 Nadia Petrova defeated Australia's Sophie Ferguson, 6-2, 6-1.

On the men's side, eighth-seeded Gaston Gaudio 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.

It was an easy start for Ginepri, who developed a reputation for going the distance in his last appearance at a major. The 23-year-old American reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open, where he became the first man in the Open Era to play four five-set matches at one tournament.

"Winning in three is a much better start - it's easier on the body," said Ginepri.

Two Swedes went out on the opening morning. No. 17 Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic beat Bjorn Rehnquist, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, and Denis Gremelmayr of Germany defeated Jonas Bjorkman, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-1.

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

First round

Men's singles

G. Gaudio (8) def. R. Sabau, 6-2, 5-0, retired.

D. Ferrer (11) def. F. Serra, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4.

R. Ginepri (13) def. J. Melzer, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

R. Stepanek (17) def. B. Rehnquist, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.

J. Nieminen (26) def. M. Kimmich, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. D. Bracciali def. L. Yen-hsun, 6-1, 7-6 (3), 6-2.

D. Gremelmayr def. J. Bjorkman, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-1.

J. Hernych def. F. Vicente, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-2.

L. Burgsmuller def. R. Schuettler, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3.

S. Wawrinka def. A. Montanes, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-0.

M. Baghdatis def. J. Gimelstob, 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-0.

Women's singles

L. Davenport (1) def. C. Dellacqua, 6-2, 6-1.

N. Petrova (6) def. S. Ferguson, 6-2, 6-1.

J. Schruff def. E. Dementieva (9), 7-5, 6-2.

T. Pironkova def. V. Williams (10), 2-6, 6-0, 9-7.

D. Hantuchova (17) def. S. Obata, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0.

J. Jankovic (23) def. J. Craybas, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

M. Santangelo def. T. Golovin (24), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

M. Kirilenko (25) def. E. Linetskaya, 6-1, 3-1, retired.

C. Martinez Granados def. A. Sugiyama (26), 6-4, 6-3.

H. Sromova def. A. Morigami, 3-0, retired.

A. Amanmuradova def. D. Randriantefy, 6-3, 2-6, 6-1.

M. Muller def. J. Gajdosova, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.

K. Sprem def. A. Bondarenko, 6-4, 6-2.

V. Razzano def. J. Dokic, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1.

K. Srebotnik def. S. Foretz, 6-4, 6-3.

O. Savchuk def. T. Obziler, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.

E. Vesnina def. L. Ting, 6-2, 6-3.

L. Granville def. K. Woerle, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0.

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