Venus outlasts rain, opponent |

Venus outlasts rain, opponent

U.S. player Venus Williams returns the ball while playing a second round match against Finland's Emma Laine during the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday May 31, 2006. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS So there was Venus Williams, on center court at the French Open on the final day of May, wearing a sweatshirt, her game as shaky as the weather was dismal.Thanks to three rain delays totaling nearly 2 hours, Williams was forced to wait until after 8 p.m. to play her second-round match, and only a few hundred bundled-up spectators saw her fall behind 4-0 as the temperature dropped to 50 degrees.Williams eventually turned things around in the fading light Wednesday night for a 7-6 (2), 6-2 victory over Emma Laine of Finland, a woman whos participated in fewer majors (three) than the American has won (five).Its nice to have moments of truth like that early on in the tournament, said Williams, seeded No. 11. I was able to really kind of focus back in, pull in the reins and really realize what I needed to do.The match was the perfect up-and-down conclusion to a day of stops and starts, when pretty much everyone complained about the Wimbledon-like weather even winners such as Roger Federer, Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova.Federers 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 win over Alejandro Falla was held up twice by showers, for about 1 1/2 hours combined; on-court action lasted a mere 86 minutes.Its not easy to come on and off the court, Federer said. You always hope your game is still there and it hasnt left you.Fat chance for a player seeking to become the first man since 1969 to win four Grand Slam titles in a row. Federer finished with a 41-13 advantage in winners.I would like to win here, said Federer, a champion at every other major at least twice but never past the semifinals in Paris. The pressure is quite big.Sharapova didnt show any apparent signs of the right ankle injury that bothered her in the first round, and moved on 6-4, 6-1 over Iveta Benesova.I didnt feel like I was moving great still, being cautious with the tape on, Sharapova said, but pain wise it felt a lot better.Williams was playing only her 11th match of the year because of injuries, though she pronounced herself fit afterward. She was rusty at the start, compiling 10 unforced errors by midway through the third game.But she ran off 11 consecutive points to get back into the match, and her powerful baseline strokes eventually proved too much for Laine.She started to play better, Laine said, and didnt miss so much.With Williams father, Richard, sitting in the front row on the sideline, and her shrieks reverberating off thousands of empty green seats, both players thought the match might be halted because of darkness. But Williams took control and finished it.Having not played as much as the next person, its important for me to stay extraordinarily positive and just be really excited about the good things Im doing, Williams said. That really builds your morale.She couldnt recall many Grand Slam matches shes played before so few spectators or in such frigid conditions. Williams had her trainer buy a top with Roland Garros written across the front, because she hadnt brought any long-sleeved shirts that would be allowed on court.The weather completely changes the tournament. It depends on whether its sunny, cloudy, raining, 1998 champion Carlos Moya said after beating Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to set up a third-round match against No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko. Now theres something that is totally unprecedented: I havent seen the sun since I arrived.Paris in the springtime, huh?Blame this on the weather, perhaps: There was a near fight at the end of No. 12 Mario Ancics win over Paul Capdeville. Ancic was bothered by the Chileans repeated complaints to the chair umpire, including before the postmatch handshake, and he told Capdeville so. Capdeville thought Ancic lunged at him and responded by pushing Ancic, but it ended there.The chair umpire favored him all the way, Capdeville said. I was just criticizing the chair umpire, so I dont understand why (Ancic) reacted this way.The best in-match theater and biggest endurance test came out on Court 2, where No. 13 Nicolas Kiefer and French wild card Marc Gicquel began play at 11:10 a.m. and walked off the court 7 hours later.There was 4:50 of action, plus the repeated rain, before Kiefer converted his sixth match point to close a 6-0, 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 11-9 victory. Both players shirts were caked with red clay when Gicquels lob landed barely long to end it.I prefer, Kiefer said, to make it easier.That was one of several matches of interest to French fans on the always-raucous first Wednesday of the tournament, when tickets are set aside for tennis clubs to bring children because schools have a half-day.Mauresmo smiled at the high-pitched chants of Ah-meh-lee! that rang out during her 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory over Vera Dushevina. At the other end of the complex, the crowd roared when No. 3 David Nalbandian of Argentina ended a 14-stroke exchange by pushing a forehand into the net against French teen Richard Gasquet. And that was only the first point of the match. Alas, Gasquet lost 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 6-0.There was good news elsewhere for the French, including two wins by teens: 16-year-old Alize Cornet beat 32-year-old Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain in a first-round match, and qualifier Aravane Rezai upset No. 22 Ai Sugiyama of Japan 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.This is a fabulous moment for me, said Rezai, who will use her winnings to travel to other tournaments.

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