Lopsided second-round scores

NEW YORK -- She talked about Andre Agassi. Talked about her achy shoulder. Talked about the difference between looking thin and being fit, about Vince Spadea's tell-all book, about shirtless male tennis coaches, and how some of them really ought to cover up. By the end of Lindsay Davenport's scattershot press conference at the U.S. Open today, only one topic was left unexplored.

Davenport's just-completed match.

Of course, this wasn't Davenport's fault: almost nobody asked the No. 10 seed about her 40-minute, 6-0, 6-0 second-round drubbing of Jelena Kostanic, either.

And really, why bother? Lindsay, your opponent hit two winners in the match. Total. Did you have trouble staying awake? The lopsided contest epitomized a sunny, drama-free afternoon at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where the marquee names rolled and anticipation simmered for tonight's match between Agassi and No. 8 seed Marcos Baghdatis.

Agassi -- for readers living in a sensory deprivation chamber -- intends to retire following the tournament.

Hobbled by a balky back, the 36-year-old sentimental favorite received a cortisone shot Tuesday afternoon in anticipation of his meeting with Baghdatis, a free-swinging Cypriot who reached the Wimbledon semifinal and the Australian Open final.

"I hope [Agassi] doesn't play his last match tonight," Davenport said. "It's hard watching him.
It's emotional for players as well as for him. You can see how much he means to everybody in the sport and how much all of this means to him.

"He seems like he's totally at peace with his decision, just wants to go out on a high. I think all of us want to see him do that."

If the day matches were any indication, the unseeded Agassi might have his hands full. Top seeds Rafael Nadal, Tommy Robredo and Lleyton Hewitt all advanced with relative ease; on the women's side of the draw, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva and Serena Williams moved on without dropping a set.

In fact, only Williams was pushed -- and even then, just a little. (All right, all right: technically speaking, Williams' 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 17 seed Daniela Hantuchova qualified as an upset -- and if you believe that, we have some oceanfront acreage on the Sea of Tranquility we'd like to sell you.)

"I don't really feel like an unseeded player," said Williams, a former world No. 1. "I'm always trying to make improvements. I am who I am and I'm out there to perform. I don't know too many people who see Serena Williams next to their name [in the draw] and say, 'Yes!'"

During a first set changeover, the Ashe Stadium sound system played Robert Palmer's "Simply Irresistible," a fitting theme for the ball-bludgeoning, cat-suit-wearing Williams of, say, 2003. That was then. In her current incarnation, two-time Open champ is slower, heavier, hampered by a creaky left knee; she opened the match camped behind the baseline, lunging for the ball instead of running it down, a habit that has marked her most desultory losses.

Hantuchova took advantage. A reedy-yet-powerful Slovak who reached the round of 16 at the last three majors, she yanked Williams back and forth, setting up angles for well-struck winners. A fist-pumping, down-the-middle ace gave Hantuchova a 4-1 lead; as Palmer's cola-shilling opus blared from the stadium speakers, she huddled in her sideline chair, staring straight ahead.

What was Hantuchova looking at? Perhaps a vision of her pending implosion. Up 5-3 and serving for the set, she sent an ill-advised drop shot into the net. Then another. Next came a double-fault, followed by a second on break point. Hantuchova challenged the call, but to no avail -- the ball was out of play, along with her control of the match.

Williams won 10 of the next 13 games. Game, set, zzzzz ....

"She seemed a little nervous," Williams said. "It was definitely a big game. The double-fault definitely opened the doors for me. It's really important to stay focused. I was only down one break. All I had to do was break her on one serve."

Right. Yes. Absolutely. Where were we? Oh, yeah: Compared to the day's other matches, Williams-Hantuchova was the Battle of Thermopylae. From Sharapova to No. 5 seed Nadia Petrova, the draw's top women were hardly tested, their opponents seemingly playing a perverse, reverse game of can-you-top-this?

Virginia Ruano Pascual hit three winners in her 50-minute loss to Petrova. Good. Kostanic managed two winners against Davenport. Better. Emily Loit struck a single winner against Sharapova, on a ball that hit the net cord before mercifully tumbling over.

"A win like this is for sure better," said Henin-Hardenne, who dismissed American youngster Vania King 6-1, 6-2 in just over an hour. "Because physically, you're not going to find your limits. Which is good."

So it went. Sharapova devoted most of her postmatch press conference to fashion talk. Williams discussed efforts to rebuild New Orleans, and also Gabriela Sabatini. Midway through the day, an apparition materialized beside the water fountain in the National Tennis Center media work room.

Actually, it wasn't an apparition -- it was boy band survivor Lance Bass.

Maybe the former N*Sync'er was bored. Maybe he wanted a drink of water. Whatever the case, Bass quickly vanished, never to return. Nothing much to see, really. It was that sort of afternoon.

Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2.