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Williams, Rios Win at French Open

May 27, 1998

PARIS (AP) _ Powered by huge serves and delicate drop shots, Venus Williams rolled into the third round of the French Open today, routing Ai Sugiyama of Japan 6-0, 6-2.

Sugiyama, ranked 19th in the world and Japan’s best player, didn’t hold her serve once. But she did break Williams twice in the second set.

The eighth-seeded Williams, vastly improved since she first played here last year, served big, hitting one at 118 mph in the first game of the second set.

``I think my footwork was very good,″ she said later. ``I was in position and it was hard for her to get balls past me.″

``If my footwork is there, it’s extremely hard to beat me. That’s what I was really happy with.″

She even tried to speak a little French. ``Je suis Parisienne,″ she said on French TV.

In other early action, the man many pick to win the title, third-seeded Marcelo Rios of Chile, had no trouble with Emilio Alvarez of Spain, winning in three quick sets, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, to advance to the third round.

Also in action today were Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis, still looking for their first French Open titles, and two former champions, Monica Seles and Thomas Muster.

Last year at the French Open, upsets were so frequent that by the time the semifinals rolled around, there was only one seeded man left and the tournament was won by the world’s 66th-ranked player.

It hasn’t taken long for the upsets to start this year, either. By the end of the second day of play Tuesday, both Andre Agassi and second-seeded Petr Korda were history.

This time, the conquerors were just as unexpected as last year. Agassi fell to the world’s 116th-ranked player. And Korda, who could have overtaken the world No. 1 spot with a victory here, lost to the 213th-ranked player.

Like Sampras and Hingis, Agassi has won every Grand Slam except the French Open.

Here’s what he doesn’t share with them: he fell as low as No. 141 last year and has been working ever since on a comeback, rising to No. 20, but still with a long way to go.

So this French Open was a chance for the newly slimmed and tanned Agassi to show the world he was ready to win a big one again.

It wasn’t to be.

Agassi lost his first-round match 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to Marat Safin, an 18-year-old Russian who had to win three qualifying matches just to make it into the French Open. Just last month, Agassi had beaten Safin in straight sets in a Davis Cup match in Atlanta.

Agassi, who had 82 unforced errors, turned up at the post-match news conference with an ice pack on his right shoulder.

``Something is obviously inflamed,″ he said, saying he had hurt it while serving in the first set. ``Anything above my shoulder I started struggling with. I just didn’t close out the points.″

But surprising as Safin’s victory was, the real shocker came from another qualifier, Mariano Zabaleta of Argentina, who ousted the second-ranked Korda in an exciting five-set struggle.

Korda, the Australian Open champion, rallied from a two-set deficit before tiring in the final set and losing 6-0, 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 to Zabaleta.

Among the women, sixth-seeded Seles looked focused and ready in a speedy 6-0, 6-2 rout of her Australian opponent, Annabel Ellwood. It was Seles’ first match since her father died of cancer on May 12.

``It was just too tough for me to stay home,″ she said.

No. 5 Amanda Coetzer was eliminated. Moving on to the second round were No. 2 Lindsay Davenport, No. 4 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, No. 7 Conchita Martinez, No. 11 Mary Pierce, No. 14 Sandrine Testud and No. 15 Dominique Van Roost.

Unseeded Serena Williams won in her French Open debut, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 over Canada’s Jana Nejedly, to join her older sister in the second round.

Men advancing included No. 4 Patrick Rafter, who rallied from two sets down to win a match that began Monday, No. 10 Richard Krajicek, No. 14 Alex Corretja and No. 16 Alberto Berasategui.

Defending champion Gustavo Kuerten, the eighth seed, lost just four games while advancing to a second-round match against Safin.

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