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Defending champ Williams out in straight sets

1/20/2006 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serena Williams fended off four
match points, making it seem as if another Australian Open comeback
was in store.
Daniela Hantuchova had other plans.
The 17th-seeded Hantuchova, from Slovakia, clinched the upset
Friday on her fifth match point when Williams hit a return wide. It
was the earliest exit for Williams at the season's first major
since 1999 and it snapped her 16-match winning streak in Melbourne.
"I was just thinking about going to the tiebreak and just
trying to hold on," Williams said after losing 6-1, 7-6 (5). "I
wasn't thinking about the past or anything like that. I think I was
really calm."
Williams has made a habit of flirting with elimination en route
to capturing her two Australian titles, fending off two match
points against Kim Clijsters in a 2003 semifinal and three against
Maria Sharapova last year.
The seven-time Grand Slam singles winner saved three more
serving at 5-6 in the second set against Hantuchova, coming back
from 0-40 to force a tiebreaker.
"I think we all know how well she can really play," Hantuchova
said. "But to her credit, I thought she kept fighting until the
end."
Williams trailed 3-0 and rallied again to lead 4-3 before
Hantuchova won three straight to set up another two match points.
Williams saved one of those, but missed on a service return on
the next.
It was the earliest that Williams and sister Venus -- a
first-round loser -- have exited a Grand Slam that both contested.
It was Serena's earliest departure here since the third round in
1999.
Their worst previous joint performance came at the 1999 French
Open, when Serena lost in the third round and Venus in the fourth.
Hantuchova next plays fourth-seeded Sharapova, who routed Jelena
Kostanic 6-0, 6-1.

Williams came here without much preparation and it showed. She
had 37 unforced errors and hit only 17 winners.
She stamped her feet. She shook her head side-to-side. She asked
herself the questions.
But no amount of cajoling helped her this time. Besides, she
said, she was in reasonable condition, but still couldn't find her
rhythm.
"I was prepared. I just didn't play my best at all," she said.
"I just was hitting balls every which direction. Just going
everywhere. I didn't feel any of them."
Hantuchova was stopped in the third round at all four majors in
2004. Her best run to date has been to quarterfinals at three
consecutive majors ending at Australia in 2003.
The 22-year-old Hantuchova has beaten top-10 players before, and
had a career-high ranking of No. 5, but said she'd struggled with
confidence in big moments.
"This time, not really -- I was not fighting myself at all as I
used to," she said. I was sometimes beating myself and not
really playing the opponent -- those times were difficult."
Williams declined to pick a favorite among the women, which
still contains seven of the top-10 players.
When pressed, she jokingly said: "I'm rooting for James Blake
all the way. Hopefully he'll pull it out."

Williams' loss means there will be no repeat singles champion
here.

In typically fickle style, the weather was hot enough in the
afternoon to force organizers into enforcing the extreme policy --
meaning suspensions on outside courts -- and wet enough in the
evening to postpone five matches.
Even Hantuchova's victory on Rod Laver Arena was interrupted
because of a sudden downpour -- with Williams trailing 3-1 -- so that
the roof could be closed.
Hantuchova came out after the half-hour delay and went straight
back on the attack, finishing off the set with her third service
break.