Dulko makes short work of Navratilova

47-year-old's historic bid ends in just over an hour

Santoro win: record 6:33

French Open

May 26, 2004|By Lisa Dillman | Lisa Dillman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

PARIS - History was made yesterday at the French Open, not by a left-handed legend but by two Frenchmen who ventured well into extra time.

Martina Navratilova, 47, was trying to become the oldest female player to win a singles match at a Grand Slam in the Open era. Her effort against Gisela Dulko of Argentina fell far short, with Dulko beating Navratilova, 6-1, 6-3, in just over an hour.

Short is not the word to describe the combined effort by Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement. Their first-round match - spread over two days - lasted 6 hours, 33 minutes - the longest in the Open era. Santoro saved two match points, eventually winning, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 3-6, 16-14. The fifth set lasted 172 minutes.

"There is no better place than here at the French Open to beat such a record," Santoro said. "It's an exceptional moment."

They had stopped about 9:30 p.m. Monday because of darkness, at 5-5 in the fifth set. The previous longest match in the Open era was between John McEnroe and Mats Wilander in a Davis Cup encounter, lasting 6:22 in St. Louis in 1982.

History hardly comforted a devastated Clement.

"What world record? What do I get? A medal? If I'm not getting anything, I'm not interested," he said. "Anyway, it lasted over two days, so it doesn't count."

The festive atmosphere around Roland Garros on Day 2 traveled to the tight confines of Court 1, where Navratilova returned to play her first singles match in Paris since 1994.

For Navratilova fans, the match tilted between appreciation at her finesse and empathy for her difficulties. It seemed as though the crowd was trying to will her into playing better.

Navratilova was broken in her first two service games and didn't win a game until 0-4. Her errant service tosses gave her fits, at times. The second set was better. Navratilova had an inspired stretch, holding at 1-2 and breaking Dulko to go up 3-2. But she won no more games.

"The crowd was great," she said. "I just wanted to stay out there a little bit longer to give them something to cheer about."

Dulko is ranked 62nd and reached the quarterfinals at Indian Wells in March but had never won a Grand Slam singles match. Before the draw, she said, she had had a premonition about playing Navratilova and told her brother and coach, Alejandro.

"It was weird because at the beginning, I wasn't nervous," Dulko, 19, said. "At the end, to finish the match, I started to think that I was playing her. Was a strange feeling."

Someone asked Dulko how old her mother happened to be.

"Forty-seven," the same as Navratilova, she said, laughing.

The decision to give Navratilova a wild card has been controversial. Amelie Mauresmo objected to Navratilova's getting a spot at the expense of a French player. Navratilova was quizzed by a French TV reporter as she was leaving the court.

" `What did you say to the young player that didn't get in because you got the wild card?' " Navratilova said, retelling the conversation. "I said, `I think I earned it. If she won two French Opens and tried to get a wild card at the age of 47, she'll probably get it, too.' "

It continued to be a rough tournament for American men. After one round, only two remain, Andy Roddick and Vince Spadea, both winners Monday.

Second-seeded Serena Williams and No. 4 Venus Williams had little trouble, each winning in straight sets, but No. 7 Jennifer Capriati survived a major scare, defeating 20-year-old Yulia Beygelzimer of Ukraine, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, rallying from an 0-3 third-set deficit.

Defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, who on Sunday was in serious doubt about playing, pushed forward and won his first-round match against Tommy Haas of Germany, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, needing a pain-killing injection beforehand for his sore ribs.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


Men's singles

First round

Daniel Elsner, Germany, def. Alexander Peya, Austria, 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-2. Martin Verkerk (19), Netherlands, def. Julien Boutter, France, 7-5, 6-3, 6-1. Thomas Enqvist, Sweden, def. Kenneth Carlsen, Denmark, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Potito Starace, Italy, def. Dmitry Tursunov, Russia, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Roger Federer (1), Switzerland, def. Kristof Vliegen, Belgium, 6-1, 6-2, 6-1.

Nicolas Kiefer, Germany, def. Thierry Ascione, France, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Victor Hanescu, Romania, def. Jean-Rene Lisnard, France, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4. Fabrice Santoro, France, def. Arnaud Clement (32), France, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 3-6, 16-14. David Ferrer, Spain, def. Olivier Rochus, Belgium, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. Sebastien Grosjean (10), France, def. Kevin Kim, United States, 6-1, 6-1, 6-4.

Xavier Malisse, Belgium, def. Rainer Schuettler (7), Germany, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. Jonas Bjorkman (24), Sweden, def. Taylor Dent, United States, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Stefan Koubek, Austria, def. David Sanchez, Spain, 6-3, 7-5, 3-6, 6-7 (0), 6-0. Julien Benneteau, France, def. Max Mirnyi (29), Belarus, 7-5, 7-5, 1-6, 6-3. Marat Safin (20), Russia, def. Agustin Calleri, Argentina, 5-7, 6-1, 4-1, retired.

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