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Dad and rain save Serena's day
Pritha Sarkar
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May 28, 2007 09:42 IST
A pep talk from dad Richard and a timely downpour over Roland Garros rescued Serena Williams from an embarrassing first-round exit at the French Open on Sunday.

While Williams needed a six-hour rain break to keep alive her title dreams, eventually beating Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, former men's world number one Marat Safin made light of the soggy conditions to become the first player to reach the second round.

Justine Henin, bidding for a hat-trick of Roland Garros crowns, celebrated her return to grand slam action following the break down of her marriage to Pierre-Yves Hardenne with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Russia's Elena Vesnina.

The unseasonably cold and wet weather in Paris meant only seven of the scheduled 24 matches were completed on the opening day of the claycourt grand slam.

While shivering fans huddled in the stands, American eighth seed Williams stepped on court in a hot fuchsia ensemble, complete with a cutaway back. But it was not long before she caught a cold.

Pironkova had already enjoyed grand slam success over the Williams clan, having beaten sister Venus in the first round at Melbourne Park last year. She was soon meting out similar treatment to Serena and raced into a 5-2 lead.

Despite saving four set points, Serena continued to flounder in the driving rain and at a break and 6-5 down in the first set she asked the umpire to suspend the match.

Granted her wish, she made a quick getaway and ran straight into her father in the players' entrance. As Richard Williams detailed where she was going wrong, Serena listened earnestly.

'A FIGHTER'

The disruption had the desired effect as on resumption Serena, back on court with a more sensible, long-sleeved outfit, ran away with the final two sets.

"I'm a fighter," said Williams,, who captured the Australian Open in January when ranked 81st in the world.

"I've never lost in the first round of a grand slam and I didn't want that to change.

"I was also feeling that if I went down, there was a 99.9 percent chance she would lose in the next round. That helped me keep fighting. I couldn't lose on the Sunday, no way."

Safin has made a habit of collecting fines at Roland Garros, be it for racket abuse, colourful language or no shows at post-match media conferences.

On Sunday, the Russian let his racket do the talking with an 84-minute, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 destruction of Spaniard Fernando Vicente.

"It's tough to play with this weather because it's raining, it's not raining, it's windy, and then it's very rough conditions because everything depends on the weather," said the 22nd seed who will next come up against Serbian Janko Tipsarevic.

"So I was lucky to finish it straight away."

His sister, 10th seed Dinara Safina, lined up a double celebration for the family after she beat Ukraine's Yuliana Fedak 7-5, 6-4.

Henin extended her run of winning straight-sets matches in the French capital to 11 with her 89-minute destruction of Vesnina.

The last time anyone took a set off the Belgian at the Open was in the fourth round in 2005.



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