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Top seed avoids 3rd straight first-round loss

5/25/2004

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.

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.