PARIS - The French tricolor was flying everywhere yesterday, but it's unlikely Venus Williams noticed. She was too busy.
Williams started her match with an ace and finished with a flourish, winning 12 of the final 16 points to defeat Evie Dominikovic, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. But in between there were seven double faults, some startlingly sloppy service returns and a final shot in the second set that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Dominikovic, ranked No. 109, had popped up a service return that fluttered down a foot inside the service line and Williams proceeded to smack it into the net to square the match and send 15,000 denizens in the stands to buzzing.
"Definitely, I can't stay at that level and continue to do as well as I'd like at this tournament," Williams said later, showing no signs of panic. "Definitely, I need to play more and play more points and definitely not rush my shots."
Still, at the end of a third straight day of blue skies and 80-degree weather, Williams moved into tomorrow's third round against Silvia Farina Elia, whom she has played eight times with the loss of only one set.
That means probably one more easy round before she runs into a serious opponent - probably 18-year-old Vera Zvonareva of Russia, who is No. 22 and seemingly bound for the Top 10.
And so the French Open completed the second round on Day 4 with Williams, seeded third, advancing with No. 2 Kim Clijsters, No. 6 Lindsay Davenport, No. 7 Jennifer Capriati and No. 15 Maggie Maleeva. The only upset was Tina Pisnik's victory over slumping, 10th-seeded Jelena Dokic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
On the men's side, there were some struggles, most notably by defending champion Alberto Costa, but all of the title prospects made it through.
Costa played his second five-setter in a row, defeating Radek Stepanek, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Two other favorites, No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero and No. 15 Gustavo Kuerten, had easy matches. Ferrero was leading Nicolas Massu, 6-2, 3-0, when Massu retired with an injured ankle. Later, Kuerten breezed past Hicham Arazi, 6-1, 6-0, 6-1.
He'll now play Tim Henman and will be heavily favored. Kuerten, meanwhile, likely will have a tough match with Gaston Gaudio, a pugnacious Argentine whose game seems well-suited to the surface here.
There were two upsets. Eighth-seeded David Nalbandian, another member of the Argentine legion in Paris and the 2002 Wimbledon runner-up, was beaten by qualifier Nicolas Coutelot of France, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, and No. 14 Sebastien Grosjean, the expatriate Frenchman living in Boca Raton, Fla., lost to Fernando Vicente, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3.
As for Williams, her consistency was lacking yesterday. She shanked a half-dozen service returns and was beaten too often in the rallies.
Dominikovic, born in Australia of Croatian parents, took a low-risk game plan into this match, mixing flat drives and looping topspin shots against Williams, hoping to keep her off-balance, and generally staying down the middle of the court, preferring to let Williams make mistakes.
It was the right strategy. Trailing 3-4 in the second, Williams combined a double fault, two forehand errors and one off the backhand side to go down 3-5 in the pivotal game of that set.
In the third set, the two women broke in the first three games before Williams moved out to 3-1 and then did her best serving of the night in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead.
Two more American men were eliminated - Todd Martin by Henman and James Blake by Ivan Ljubicic. That left only No. 2 Andre Agassi and Vince Spadea. Agassi will play Xavier Malisse today, and Spadea will take on hard-serving Dutchman Martin Verkerk.
Charles Bricker is a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.