Kuerten says farewell as Serbs struggle on opening day

May 26th, 2008 - 1:32 pm ICT by admin  

Paris, May 26 (DPA) Gustavo Kuerten bid farewell to tennis as Serbian seeds struggled to reach the second round on a dramatic opening day at the French Open Sunday. The popular three-time Brazilian champion (1997, 2000 and 2001) was saluted with a standing ovation, a Mexican wave and was also given an award by the Grand Slam.

For a decade it has been a love affair between player and public.

“I thought I played much better than I expected,” the 31-year-old Kuerten said after going out in the first round to Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

“There wasn’t a single shot that I couldn’t make - forehand, backhand, serve, dropshot, volleys,” added the Brazilian who is giving up the game after a hip surgery in 2004.

“I did everything that I think I was able to do in the past, but not at the same frequency. At least I had the feeling to do it once more.

“I felt myself competitive sometimes.”

While Kuerten basked in the final glory amid the Parisian public that has always loved him, Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic paced a sputtering Serbian assault, with both overcoming niggles to advance.

Third seed Djokovic sleep-walked through the opening set before waking up in time to stave off an upset-in-the-making from German Denis Gremelmayr, to win 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.

“I’m not happy with the way I played, but you always have to be positive and try to think in the right direction and hope for the best,” said the Australian Open champion.

Women’s 2007 Paris finalist Ivanovic went down a break in the second set but recovered to post a defeat of Swede Sofia Arvidsson 7-5, 6-2.

“I let my intensity go down for a bit and she used it and started playing much better,” said the Swiss-based Serb.

“Towards the end I’m happy that I found back my game and managed to break her back and win the second set.”

The 2002 champion and fifth seed Serena Williams outplayed fellow American Ashley Harkleroad 6-2, 6-1.

Czech Iveta Benesova sprang the first surprise as she overwhelmed 15th-seeded compatriot Nicole Vaidisova 7-6 (7-2), 6-1.

It was the fifth consecutive loss for Vaidisova who last won a match in Dubai two months ago. She exited early on clay in Berlin and Rome following a Roland Garros semi-final two years ago.

“Iveta played a very good match, she played very well,” said Vaidisova. “It’s always hard to play your best friend.”

French teenage sensation Alize Cornet followed up on her final appearance in Rome with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Ukranian Julia Vakulenko.

Men’s seventh seed James Blake had to perform a quick turnaround after playing Friday in Dusseldorf and finding himself with a Day One start at Roland Garros.

Blake was not overly bothered, though, as he put out former Australian Open finalist Rainer Schuettler of Germany 6-4, 6-1, 7-6(7-3).

“Playing on a Sunday at a Slam is a little tough after coming from another event,” said the American.

Andy Murray won his first career match at the event despite the remnants of a sore throat, beating French teenager Jonathan Eysseric 6-2, 1-6, 4-6, 6-0, 6-2.

Argentine qualifier Eduardo Schwank ended the run of 16th seed Carlos Moya 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-7 (1-7), 4-6, 6-3 a decade after the Spaniard lifted the title.

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