French champ fights pain to qualify

JUSTIN HENIN-HARDENNE, the slim Belgian star with the biggest promise of ending the women’s power era at Wimbledon, fought through the pain of a hand injury to reach the second round against tall Ukrainian Julia Vakulenko.

French champion Henin-Hardenne, who ended Serena Williams’ Grand Slam dominance last month had damaged her wrist and had to drop out of a final in Holland last Saturday against compatriot Kim Clijsters, the rival she conquered in the Roland Garros final.

But after a fitness test she surged to an opening victory 7-5 6-1 although she said: “It is still painful and I have to go match by match.”

Third seed Henin-Hardenne was cheered to the French crown in Paris, having left Williams suffering the jeers in the semi-final, and she said:

“I know the crowd is different at Wimbledon but hopefully I’ll get a lot of support behind me again.”

Jennifer Capriati, seeded eight, also came through impressively, ditching Myriam Casanova of Switzerland 6-1 6-3 in double-quick time and said she was capable of winning the title after her three Grand Slam titles in the last two years dried up this year.

Former world number one Capriati, who was stunned by Germany’s Marlene Weingartner in the first round of the Australian championships when defending her crown, insisted:

“I haven’t lost any of my motivation but nobody can keep up the kind of momentum of before.”

Wimbledon 11th seed Jelena Dokic said she feared losing to British hope Elena Baltacha if she had repeated her typical form this season.

Dokic, semi-finalist in 1999 who made shock early exits at Eastbourne and the French Open this year, scraped through her first round clash with the British number two who is suffering from a liver complaint.

She won 6-3 1-6 6-4 in just over an hour and 40 minutes on a packed Court Three where the home crowd had high hopes of an upset.

Dokic, who has split from her controversial father Damir and sacked two coaches in the last 18 months, said:

“I have had to fight for myself a lot this season. But there was a lot improvement in my performance.”

Ukraine-born Baltacha, 19, the world number 149 who has been dogged by illness, confirmed she will face a biopsy next week as specialists try to discover the source of her liver problem which has been a factor since November when she also had her tonsils removed.

Other seeds were not as lucky as Dokic with Thailand’s Tamarine Tanasugarn (32) going down in straight sets to Japan’s Akiko Morigami and American Meghann Shaughnessy (19) crashed 6-3 6-2 to Hungarian qualifier Aniko Kapros who is ranked below 200.

But Russians Anastasia Myskina, the 10th seed, and Elena Dementieva, 15, came through comfortably against, respectively, Henrieta Nagyova of Slovakia who retired injured in the second set, and Germany’s Angelika Roesch.

Serena Williams overcame the Hewitt factor to make a confident start to the defence of her Wimbledon crown. The world number one, was delighted to ease past fellow American Jill Craybas 6-3 6-3 in under an hour.

She now plays veteran Belgian Els Callen, who took her to two tie-break sets in the third round last year.

The champion was not at her best, achieving only a 53% success rate with her first serve and coming up with 21 unforced errors, but she said the exit of Hewitt had been on her mind.

“I didn’t want to make history by having two defending champions going out,” she said.

Russian teenager Maria Sharapova, who is hailed as the new big noise in women’s tennis, grunted her way to victory in a battle of the blonde beauties against American Ashley Harkleroad.

Sharapova, whose grunts have even enticed tabloid newspapers to put decibel counters courtside, swept vociferously into the second roundwith an easy 6-2 6-1 win.

The stands on court two were packed for the glamour match amid endless speculation as to whether there might be not just one, but two young players set to eclipse the absent Anna Kournikova as the next modelling sensation in tennis.

But Sharapova insisted she was very much her own person. “I just do my own thing, just try to worry about myself, ,” she said.

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