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Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Sharapova's opener goes smoothly; Venus works way out of early jam

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WIMBLEDON, England -- Defending champion Venus Williams scraped through a tight first set and then pulled away for a 7-6 (5), 6-1 victory over British teenager Naomi Cavaday to begin her bid for a fifth Wimbledon title.

As reigning champion, Williams was up first on "Ladies Day" on Centre Court as the All England Club enjoyed a second spell of dry, sunny weather on a day that also featured a first-round victory by Maria Sharapova.

It took awhile for the seventh-seeded Williams, playing her first grass-court match of the season, to find her game and take command against a 19-year-old wild-card entry playing only her third career Grand Slam match.

"She played a great match," said Williams, who hit one serve at 125 mph. "She put a lot of pace on the ball, forced a few errors by me. I felt confident throughout the match. I felt good out there. I always feel good on that court."

Williams' potential quarterfinal opponent, No. 2-seeded Jelena Jankovic, easily advanced by beating 113th-ranked Olga Savchuk of Ukraine 6-3, 6-2 in a late match.

Another Wimbledon women's champion, 2004 winner Sharapova, advanced to the second round with a 6-1, 6-4 win on Court 1 over 105th-ranked French qualifier Stephanie Foretz.

"It was great to get out there and get a feel for the court," the third-seeded Sharapova said. "It was my first match on grass this year and I did pretty well considering."

A day after Roger Federer wore a custom-made cardigan onto Centre Court and Serena Williams donned a thigh-length trench coat, Sharapova made a fashion statement of her own. She came on court wearing shorts and a specially designed white tuxedo-style top.

"I'm very inspired by menswear this year," Sharapova said. "Every year at Wimbledon I want to do something classy. I've never worn shorts before at a Grand Slam and Wimbledon is the place to do it."

Lindsay Davenport, the 1999 champion competing in her 13th Wimbledon at age 32, overcame a leg injury to beat Renata Voracova 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. Davenport missed the tournament last year after giving birth to a son in June 2007.

Venus Williams
Venus Williams and sister Serena have won six of the last eight Wimbledon titles.

Davenport, who squandered a match point in the 10th game of the second set, took an injury timeout before the third. A trainer strapped her right leg from midcalf to thigh. Davenport limped through the third set, going for big shots, and managed to win. After match point, she looked to the sky and limped off the court without a smile.

Cavaday, a left-hander with a world ranking of No. 197, pushed Williams to the limit in a surprisingly tough opening set that lasted nearly an hour.

With nothing to lose, Cavaday went for her shots and got out to leads of 2-0 and 3-1. She missed a chance to go up 4-2 and Williams rallied to go ahead 4-3.

Cavaday, however, didn't wilt and forced a tiebreaker. Williams was up 3-1 and 4-2 in the tiebreaker, but Cavaday got back to 4-4 with a forehand winner. At 6-4, Williams squandered a set point with a forehand error. She converted on the second when Cavaday couldn't handle a second serve and sent a forehand return into the net.

Cavaday held to open the second set, but Williams then reeled off six straight games to close out the match, and celebrated with twirls to the crowd.

Among those in the stands were her mother, Oracene, and sister Serena, the two-time champion who won her first-round match Monday. The Williams sisters, who could meet in the final, have won six of the last eight Wimbledon titles.

Jankovic, yet to get beyond the fourth round in singles here but a mixed doubles champion last year with Brit Jamie Murray, enjoyed a mostly trouble-free passage once she had found her range with some venomous hitting.

"Overall I thought I played a pretty good match for the first round because always the first rounds are the toughest," Jankovic said. "I always have some trouble in the beginning of the tournaments.

"I had a slow start in the beginning and I couldn't find my rhythm. But then I cruised through the match," she said.

Japan's Ai Sugiyama notched a record 57th consecutive Grand Slam appearance when she coasted to a 6-4, 6-2 first-round win over Wimbledon debutante Yanina Wickmayer.

When the 32-year-old Sugiyama contested the first point in her match against the Belgian teen, she surpassed South Africa's Wayne Ferreira's benchmark of 56 successive appearances.

"I'm very happy. When I heard the number of Grand Slams I have played, it's actually really huge numbers," said Sugiyama, who began her record run at Wimbledon in 1993. "This is my 16th Wimbledon and it's been great."

The Japanese player's best Grand Slam performances were quarterfinal appearances at the Australian Open in 2000 and at Wimbledon in 2004.

Sania Mirza battled through pain to reach the second round with a scrappy 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4 win over Colombia's Catalina Castano.

The Indian No. 1, making a comeback after undergoing wrist surgery in April, needed a medical timeout at 4-1 down in the second set to treat a pectoral injury.

Although the rubdown could not save her from losing the second set, Mirza stood firm in the decider to wrap up victory after 2 hours, 16 minutes.

"It's always good to get through matches like that, even when you're not playing your best, you're coming back from an injury," Mirza said. "Today I actually felt nervous again to go out. I didn't really sleep well last night, to be honest. But I think that happens when you're coming back from injury. You're probably expecting things from yourself which you're probably not able to do as well as you did before.

"But getting through matches like this is what's going to help you get better, and I think it was very good for me to get through that," she said.

While Mirza lapped up the applause from the vocal Indian fans packed into Court 11, Castano was left to reflect on yet another fleeting visit to the All England Club.

In six appearances at the grass-court Grand Slam, she has lost in the first round every time.

Mirza, seeded 32nd, will next face Spaniard Maria Martinez Sanchez as she attempts to reach the third round here for the first time.

The 21-year-old, however, admitted her wrist still did not feel 100 percent.

"Medically, it's fine now," said Mirza. "But I still have pain when I hit a late forehand because that's something that even the doctors have said stays. Sometimes it goes away in three months, sometimes it takes eight months. So that's something that you kind of have to play through. It's a new wrist so it takes time getting used to taking 100 mile-an-hour balls for over two hours.

"But I'm feeling like I can compete again and what the hell, I'm winning a match," she said.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.