- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

PARIS — Martina Navratilova hit an ace yesterday, a nifty achievement for a 47-year-old player at the French Open. She needed more than one.

Navratilova’s Roland Garros comeback lasted barely an hour, ending with an opening-round loss to Gisela Dulko 6-1, 6-3. The match was Navratilova’s first in Grand Slam singles since 1994.

“I had some moments of brilliance,” Navratilova said. “But they were few and far between, unfortunately.”

The left-hander employed the same serve-and-volley tactics that helped her win 18 major singles titles, but she was often a step slow reaching shots. Often left lunging, Navratilova won just 10 of 22 points at the net, struggled with her serve and was broken five times.

In the twentysomething division, Serena and Venus Williams advanced easily.

Second-seeded Serena, jeered the last time she played at Roland Garros, drew applause after beating Iveta Benesova 6-2, 6-2. No.4 Venus looked tentative at times in her first match since being sidelined May9 by an ankle injury, but she still defeated Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-2, 6-4.

No. 7 Jennifer Capriati rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the final set to beat Yulia Beygelzimer 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

On the men’s side, top-ranked Roger Federer ended his two-year French Open losing streak by beating Kristof Vliegen 6-1, 6-2, 6-1.

Federer lost in the opening round at Roland Garros to Hicham Arazi in 2002 and to Luis Horna in 2003. But he dominated from the start against Vliegen, who lost in qualifying and made the draw only when another player withdrew.

Defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, who has been taking painkiller injections for sore ribs, rallied to beat Tommy Haas 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

The top-seeded Spaniard said the thought of withdrawing because of injury was more painful than playing.

“It’s Roland Garros and I’m trying to defend a title, you know,” said Ferrero, adding that he felt no pain during the match but had some trouble with his serve.

Ferrero bruised his right ribs in a fall May 8 while practicing in Spain. Earlier this week, he said there was a 60 percent chance he would withdraw.

Fabrice Santoro won the longest match — by time — in the Open era, beating fellow Frenchman Arnaud Clement 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 3-6, 16-14. The 6-hour, 33-minute marathon actually took two days because darkness forced a suspension Monday at 5-all in the fifth set.

Three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten, seeded 28th, needed three hours to beat qualifier Nicolas Almagro 7-5, 7-6 (2), 1-6, 3-6, 7-5.

Dulko, 19, was born the year after Navratilova won the second of her two French Open titles in 1984. Two decades later, Navratilova is a different player, and against Dulko she converted only one of six break-point chances.

Navratilova led 3-2 in the second set before the Argentine won the final four games.

“If you look at the score line, you’d say, wow, she got killed,” Navratilova said. “But if you watch the match, I could have been up 4-3 in the first set. I couldn’t convert game points — that was the difference in the match.”

In the next-to-last game, Navratilova stumbled and fell to the clay chasing a forehand into the corner. Dulko grimaced in concern, but Navratilova quickly rose unhurt.

Active in doubles since 2000, when she came out of retirement, Navratilova has said this will be her final year of competitive tennis. Her return this week drew complaints from at least two players that Navratilova took a spot in the draw that could have gone to a young player trying to establish herself.

“Did I diminish the tournament by playing out there today?” Navratilova said. “I don’t think so.”

Navratilova said she hasn’t decided whether she will try to play singles next month at Wimbledon, a tournament she won a record nine times.

Serena Williams played on center court at the same time her older sister was on Court Suzanne Lenglen, and neither match produced much drama. Venus lost the first two games, then won 10 in a row against Tanasugarn.

“I was a little stressed out, too, starting out and got a slow start,” Venus said. “But so far, so good. Keep them short and simple.”

She’s seeking her fifth Grand Slam title but her first since 2001 and her first at Roland Garros. She declined to say whether she was hampered by pain in the ankle.

“If I was, I wouldn’t let on,” Williams said with a smile.

Parisian fans turned against Serena Williams last year when she questioned calls during a semifinal loss to eventual champion Justine Henin-Hardenne. But this time there were cheers, not jeers.

“It was really exciting to come back out there,” Williams said. “I got out there and got nice applause. It was interesting. I didn’t think anything about the semifinals. I just thought about playing my match.”

The biggest stir Williams caused was in response to her latest ensemble — a fuchsia two-piece outfit augmented by a headband, poofy hairpiece and hoop earrings the size of tennis balls.

“I’m always trying to raise the bar on my outfits, especially here,” Williams said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind city, and you need to have a one-of-a-kind outfit.”

Williams said she comes to Paris feeling compelled to make a bold fashion statement.

“You have to when you’re in Paris,” Williams said. “It’s just a one-of-a-kind city, and you need to have one-of-a-kind outfits.”

It’s not a style just anyone can pull off, said Jennifer Capriati, who beat Yulia Beygelzimer of Ukraine 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

“You’ve got to give her credit for being confident and wearing what she wants to wear and not caring what anybody says,” Capriati said.

Serena says she’s inspired by Paris.

“I’ve really been influenced by the Parisians and the way they dress,” she said. “The women here have very, very classy taste.”

The Santoro-Clement match was one of a kind: an endurance test lasting 463 points. Santoro won 235, including the last one on a backhand winner.

He collapsed on his back in relief and later sat at his chair and appeared to sob into a towel.

The previous longest match since the Open era began in 1968 was John McEnroe’s five-set victory over Mats Wilander in a 1982 Davis Cup match that took 6:22, all in one day.

Clement, seeded 32nd, held a match point in the fifth set Monday but found himself still playing 17 hours later. He found no consolation in making the record book.

“I don’t care,” he said. “What do I get, a medal?”

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