Venus Out in Shocker at Australian Open

Posted on January 16, 2006

While punters had chosen the younger, overweight Williams sister as the odds-on favorite to duck out in round one at the 2006 Australian Open, it was the shocking opposite on opening-day Monday when sprite 18-year-old Bulgarian Tszvetana Pironkova ousted the No. 10-seeded Venus 2-6, 6-0, 9-7.

"I had so many unforced errors, I just was struggling to keep the ball in today," said Venus who offered up a whopping 65 unforced gifts to her opponent. "Just couldn't get it right. Obviously, she benefited from my largesse. But it's the beginning of the year, and I feel like I still have a lot of success ahead of me. It's just my first event."

Williams had dropped only four games to Pironkova in their lone meeting last year at Istanbul.

The Bulgarian teen, who came into the match ranked No. 94 on the WTA Rankings, played reminiscent of Jelena Dokic in her finest days, with a consistent rhythmic slugging to her baseline assault that the elder Williams sister could only marvel at in the end.

"I was little nervous in the beginning of the match," said Pironkova, playing in her maiden grand slam event. "Then when I sit down the break between the sets, I said to myself, 'It's okay, you are here in the Vodafone Arena, this big court, you need to show some tennis to the audience. Just relax and play your game.' And that happened. I know Venus since long time from the TV when I just was a little kid. I always love her game. But when I go on court, I should not think about that, that she was kind of my idol before. I just have to play tennis, and I did."

The No. 13-seeded Serena kept critics guessing Monday, getting steamrolled in a shaky second-set breaker before triumphing 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-2 over China's Na Li to advance safely into the second round.

"I play better the longer the match goes on," Serena said. "I just was able to -- you know, I wasn't hitting out. At one point I started blocking too many balls. I just decided that I needed to hit out...I feel amazing right now. I just feel like dancing. I can just hear this song, this Beyonce song "Check on It." I just feel like getting down, doing the eagle. I have a lot of energy right now, it's really hot. I'm feeling much better than I have at the (US) Open -- Wimbledon, too."

Leading the seeds with duplicate scores of 6-2, 6-1 Monday were (1) Lindsay Davenport (d. (WC) Dellacqua), (4) Maria Sharapova (d. Kloesel), (6) Nadia Petrova (d. (WC) Ferguson) and (8) Justine Henin-Hardenne (d. Domachowska), joined by lower seeds (14) Svetlana Kuznetsova (d. (WC) Breadmore), (17) Daniela Hantuchova (d. Obata, bagel in the third), (18) Elena Likhovtseva (d. Raymond in two tiebreaks), (23) Jelena Jankovic (d. Craybas in three), and (25) Maria Kirilenko (d. countrywoman Linetskaya who retired with abdominal pain).

"I actually felt pretty good," said Sharapova of her multitude of injuries, including shoulder, pectoral muscle and rib problems. "I'm really happy about it because that's one of the first times I played a match without feeling anything. You know, I don't expect it to be that like for the whole tournament. So I'm very happy I got through that one without any pain."

For Henin-Hardenne the first round was a tester, coming off injury and a win in her first event last week at Sydney.

"I was a little bit concerned about my recovery this weekend after the hard match I had in Sydney," Henin-Hardenne said. "But that was good. I think at the beginning of the match, I was a little bit tired. It was pretty hard for me to move well. But after a few games, I was feeling very comfortable on the court."

Five other players joined Pironkova in orchestrating upsets on Day One in German Julia Schruff (d. (9) Dementieva), Italian Mara Santangelo (d. (24) Golovin in three), Spaniard Conchita Martinez Granados (d. (26) Sugiyama), Czech Zuzana Ondraskova (d. (28) Medina Garrigues), and Russian Ekaterina Bychkova (d. (29) Koukalova in three).

Qualifiers put in a 2-5 record on the day with winners Olga Savchuk (d. (Q) Obziler in three) of the Ukraine and American Ashley Harkleroad (d. Peng), with qualifying losers Jarmila Gajdosova (l. to Muller in three) of the Slovak Republic, China's Ting Li (l. to Vesnina), German Kathrin Woerle (l. to Granville 6-0 in the third), and Austrian Yvonne Meusburger (l. to Camerin).

Other un-seeds into the second round were Croatians Karolina Sprem (d. A.Bondarenko) and Jelena Kostanic (d. Washington), Spaniards Virginia Ruano Pascual (d. countrywoman Dominguez Lino) and Arantxa Parra Santonja (d. Panova 6-1 in the third), France's Virginie Razzano (d. (WC) Dokic 6-1 in the third) and Camille Pin (d. Diaz-Oliva in three), Uzbek wildcard Akgul Amanmuradova (d. Randriantefy 6-1 in the third), Slovenia's Katarina Srebotnik (d. Foretz), Czech Hana Sromova (d. Morigami who retired with an ankle sprain), and Russian Galina Voskoboeva (d. Gagliardi).

Dokic prematurely celebrated after hitting what she thought was a forehand winner on her first match point in the second set.

"I would have to say one of the most disappointing losses probably in my career so far," said Dokic after blowing match points against Razzano then folding 6-1 in the third. "Yeah, it was difficult. I was already really happy, and then half an hour later I was, you know, the most disappointed that I've ever had."

Scheduled for Tuesday at the Australian Open are (3) Mauresmo vs. T.Sun, (30) Vera "The Crying Game" Zvonareva vs. Hingis, (5) Pierce vs. Pratt, (2) Clijsters vs. Y.J. Cho, Stosur vs. Bremond, (32) Mirza vs. Azarenka, (16) Vaidisova vs. Yakimova, (21) Ivanovic vs. Perry, Sucha vs. Smashnova, Birnerova vs. Bammer, Peer vs. Asagoe, Cornet vs. Nakamura, (12) Myskina vs. Fedak, Safarova vs. Sanchez Lorenzo, (22) Groenefeld vs. Pous Tio, Vinci vs. Shaughnessy, Loit vs. Kutuzova, Dushevina vs. Castano, Chakvetadze vs. Zheng, Jamea "Action" Jackson vs. Tanasugarn, (27) Bartoli vs. Amy "Joltin' Joe" Frazier, (15) Schiavone vs. Ant.Serra Zanetti in an all-Italian, M.Yuan vs. Melinda "The Fifth Element" Czink, (31) Dulko vs. Ani, Benesova vs. Fujiwara, Vento-Kabchi vs. Arvidsson, (7) Schnyder vs. Daniilidou, (11) Dechy vs. Z.Yan, Krajicek vs. Brandi, (19) Safina vs. Garbin, (20) Flavia "Of the Day" Pennetta vs. Black, and Laine vs. Nuria Llagostera "Pancho" Vives.