Top seed avoids 3rd straight first-round loss

Updated: May 25, 2004, 2:56 PM ET
Associated Press

PARIS -- Top-ranked Roger Federer ended his two-year French Open losing streak by beating Kristof Vliegen 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 in the first round Tuesday.

Federer lost in the opening round at Roland Garros to Hicham Arazi in 2002 and to Luis Horna in 2003. But he dominated from the start against Vliegen, who lost in qualifying and made the draw only when another player withdrew.

As time goes by, a record
PARIS -- After pounding a backhand winner down the line, Fabrice Santoro ended the longest match in Open era history by sliding on his back through clay with both arms aloft. He lay there, staring at the blue sky as if transfixed.

Moments later, he sat on his chair and threw a towel over his head, crying from the strain of 6 hours, 33 minutes on court -- a record for time played since the Open era began in 1968.

Santoro beat Arnaud Clement 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 3-6, 16-14 in the first round. The 71-game marathon actually took two days because darkness forced a suspension Monday at 5-all in the fifth set.

"I only took 1 liter of water out with me today," Santoro said. "I told myself we'd play maybe 10 or 15 minutes. I didn't think I had another two hours in my legs."

The match beat the previous mark held by John McEnroe and Mats Wilander. They battled for 6:22 in a Davis Cup quarterfinal between the United States and Sweden in 1982. McEnroe won the 79-game slugfest 9-7, 6-2, 15-17, 3-6, 8-6.

"I don't care [about the record]. What do I get? A medal?" Clement said after his fourth first-round exit at Roland Garros in eight attempts.

"There may be an even longer match tomorrow," he said. "I don't play tennis to spend as much time possible on court."

There was no poignant moment at the finish despite the valiant duel. No slap on the back at the net, no warm smile, no disbelieving shake of the head. Simply a polite handshake like strangers meeting for the first time.

"We could have fallen into each others arms, but we didn't," Santoro said. "Frankly, it could have been a longer handshake. But put yourself in Arnaud's shoes. He's bitterly disappointed."
-- Associated Press

Defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, who has been taking painkiller injections for sore ribs, rallied to beat Tommy Haas 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

In sunny, 70-degree weather, Federer needed only 76 minutes on Court Suzanne Lenglen to advance. He hit 33 winners, never faced a break point and won 87 percent of the points on his first serve.

"It's a little bit of a relief after the last years," Federer said. "There has been so much talk if I would lose three times in a row at the French Open. I'm happy I'm still in the tournament."

Three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten, seeded 28th, needed three hours to beat qualifier Nicolas Almagro 7-5, 7-6 (2), 1-6, 3-6, 7-5.

Two other seeded men lost. No. 7 Rainer Schuettler was eliminated by Xavier Malisse 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, and No. 29 Max Mirnyi lost to Julien Benneteau 7-5, 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.

U.S. men fell to 2-7 when Taylor Dent and Kevin Kim lost. No. 10 Sebastien Grosjean beat Kim 6-1, 6-1, 6-4, and No. 24 Jonas Bjorkman defeated Dent 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

Federer displayed the versatile arsenal of shots that makes him dangerous on all surfaces, including clay. In the final game alone he hit a lob volley to win one point, smacked a lunging forehand to save another, then pulled a forehand winner into the corner to close out the victory.

He celebrated with a fist pump, then shared a laugh with Vliegen at the net.

"I tried to focus on the first round and be as well prepared as I could and not put a huge amount of pressure of myself," Federer said. "I really tried to play as simple as I could."

Federer, the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, improved his record this year to 33-3, including 10-1 on clay. But his career record at Roland Garros is a modest 8-5.

Federer will next play Nicolas Kiefer, who beat Thierry Ascione 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. No. 19-seeded Martin Verkerk, the surprise runner-up last year, swept Julien Boutter 7-5, 6-3, 6-1.

The second day began with the tournament still abuzz about Andre Agassi's loss Monday to Jerome Haehnel.

"I didn't think he would lose," Federer said. "Obviously it makes you also think that anybody can beat you."

At 23, Haehnel has contemplated retirement, but that was before he pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history. A qualifier playing his first tour-level match beat the winner of eight major titles, 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

With no coach, a distaste for flying and a ranking of 271st, Haehnel came to Roland Garros on the verge of calling it a career.

"I've thought about it," the Frenchman said. With a smile he added, "Now maybe I will go on."

The question is how long the 34-year-old Agassi will go on, and whether he'll return for a 17th appearance at the French Open next year.

"Hard to say," the 1999 champion said. "I don't know. It's a year away, and that's a long time for me right now. The chances get less every year, that's for sure."

Also on opening day, fellow American Vince Spadea overcame a 5-1 deficit in the fifth set and nine match points to beat Florent Serra. Ninth-seeded Tim Henman rallied from two sets down to defeat Cyril Saulnier. And Vladimir Voltchkov edged Radek Stepanek 11-9 in the fifth set.

Second-seeded Andy Roddick overcame an upset stomach to eliminate fellow American Todd Martin 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-5. Roddick had lost in the opening round the past two years.

Other winners on the men's side included No. 3 Guillermo Coria and No. 5 Carlos Moya, the 1998 champion. Three seeded men were eliminated: No. 6 Agassi, No. 16 Fernando Gonzalez and No. 18 Mark Philippoussis.

WITHDRAWALS:
No. 15 Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands withdrew Monday. Schalken cited a viral infection.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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