Upsets still in fashion in Paris as '03 champ Ferrero gets yanked

No. 1 Federer, S. Williams get tested but advance

French Open

May 28, 2004|By Charles Bricker | Charles Bricker,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

PARIS - One by one, the mighty have fallen this week at the French Open, some of the biggest names in tennis, to a cadre of little-knowns.

Andre Agassi, to a 23-year-old who had never been in a main tour match before he walked onto the stadium court. Justine Henin-Hardenne, the defending women's champion, to an Italian with more thyroid problems than titles.

Second seed Andy Roddick, to a Frenchman who hadn't won a match this season before arriving at Roland Garros. And yesterday, Juan Carlos Ferrero, the defending men's champion, to the obscure Russian Igor Andreev.

It could have been even more lethal because by late afternoon, No. 7 Serena Williams, who is probably the most important player in the game, was within a couple of more wild forehands from being summarily dismissed by a 17-year-old Russian ranked No. 100.

Don't search for arcane reasons for this upset madness. It's really quite simple. This is the French Open. Anything can happen.

Somehow, No. 1 and top-seeded Roger Federer survived with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (6) win over Nicolas Kiefer, but he, as much as anyone, knows you're never safe in the first week. Federer went out in the first round of this Grand Slam in 2002 and 2003.

"It's like all the dreams come true. Center Court. The guy who won last year. Was No. 1 in the world and I could beat him. It's unbelievable feeling," said Andreev, whose remarks could have been ascribed in one form or another to any of a half-dozen ebullient players who have pulled stunners in the opening four days.

The Ferrero loss was not a shock, but it was a surprise. He had taken an injection to block pain in his sore ribs and it worked well enough to get him through his first round. But, just when it looked as if he had beaten the maladies that limited him to seven clay-court matches this spring, up popped a leg muscle injury against Andreev.

"I couldn't arrive to the balls in the right time. Always I hit the ball so late and I couldn't push it hard. In the third set, I hear some cracks, strong cracks and I couldn't move so well," Ferrero said.

And so he's out, the first time since Andre Agassi in 2000 that the defending champion has been erased this early.

Tenth seed Sebastien Grosjean, the Frenchman living in Boca Raton, was victimized in another perplexing upset. He was taken down, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4, by Potito Staraci of Italy, who had played only one regular tour match before this French Open, losing in 2003 to Marc Lopez of Spain.

Another mild upset: No. 14 Jiri Novak lost to Gaston Gaudio in five sets.

On the women's side, second-seeded Serena Williams was six points from defeat in the third set before winning, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, over Maria Kirilenko. But if this was a near disaster for Serena, the day was a success for her sister, No. 4 Venus Williams.

Venus, overcoming an injury to her left ankle, passed a major test by defeating left-handed Jelena Kostanic, who pressed ball after ball to Williams' backhand side, where her ankle would be most vulnerable.

Venus Williams still is not playing championship-caliber tennis, but for the first time she looked fully mobile on court.

Ferrero, however, was only a shadow of the player that dominated the tournament a year ago. He had only 14 winners and 41 unforced errors. He also had zero regrets about taking the cortisone shot and playing.

"I played two matches after I couldn't play for two months. It was a tough decision to take the injections, but finally I do it, and I have to be happy with this."

Today, in the lower half of the draw, two favored players are back on court: No. 3 Guillermo Coria against big-hitting Mario Ancic and No. 5 Carlos Moya, playing Raemon Sluiter.

And, as has been firmly established this week, anything can happen.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

At Stade Roland Garros, Paris

Men singles second round

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