Davenport rides out Chinese storm to make Paris progress

FRUSTRATED by the French clay and a Chinese teenager, Lindsay Davenport glared at her racket, clenched her teeth and mounted a comeback.

Twice two points from defeat, the top-ranked Davenport won 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0 yesterday against 19-year-old Shuai Peng in the second round at the French Open.

“I definitely got lucky and escaped one today,” Davenport said.

The close call wasn’t a shocker: Davenport also struggled in her opening match and rarely plays well at Roland Garros, the only major event she has yet to win.

“This is going to be my toughest two-week tournament, however long I last,” Davenport said.

“I don’t expect to reach for the stars here. It’s hard for me to move well on clay.”

While Davenport averted an upset, the match offered the latest evidence of China’s emerging tennis talent. A year ago in Paris, Jie Zheng became the first Chinese woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam event.

Peng, ranked 43rd and playing at Roland Garros for the first time, served for the victory at 5-4 in the second set and led 30-15 before Davenport rallied. Consecutive backhand winners gave her the game, and she hit two more in the tiebreaker.

After 50 unforced errors in the first two sets, Davenport had just six in the final set. She closed out with consecutive aces and a service winner.

“Normally you have one aspect of your game that’s not going well,” she said.

“I really felt not great about almost every part. It was just one of those kind of tough days, a day I probably shouldn’t have ended up winning.”

Eleventh seed Venus Williams beat Fabiola Zuluaga 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, continuing the trend of tight women’s matches.

Defending champion Anastasia Myskina was upset on the first day, and Davenport and No 2 Maria Sharapova won their opening matches in split sets. That was the first time in the Open era that the two top-seeded women were taken to three sets in the first round at a Grand Slam event.

Not every match was close. No 14 Kim Clijsters, a two-time runner-up, advanced to the third round by drubbing Ludmila Cervanova 6-2, 6-1. No 21 Mary Pierce, the 2000 champion, defeated Jelena Kostanic 6-1, 6-0.

Top seed Roger Federer improved to 43-2 this year by beating Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 7-6 (0), 6-2. Federer’s biggest obstacle to his first French title may be No 4 Rafael Nadal, who extended his winning streak to 19 matches by beating Xavier Malisse 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

Nadal next plays fellow 18-year-old Richard Gasquet of France, who beat Peter Wessels 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-1.

Defending men’s champion Gaston Gaudio reached the third round when Dmitry Tursunov defaulted shortly before their match because of a knee injury. The Russian had been bothered by the injury for almost a week but beat Stefan Koubek in four sets in the first round.

No 7 Tim Henman, a semi-finalist last year, lost to Luis Horna 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4.

“The match was pretty tight to begin with,” Henman said after his loss.

“But I think he (Horna) played really great tennis. When he can play that aggressively with seemingly the big margin of error, that’s his style, but that what’s going to be very effective on clay. I certainly give him a lot of credit for the way he played.”

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