Henin, Sharapova win; Safina ousted

Updated: May 25, 2010, 7:15 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PARIS -- As always, Justine Henin punctuated her best shots with shouts of "Allez!" -- French for "Come on!"

In this case, it also meant, "I'm back!"

[+] EnlargeSafina
AP Photo/Laurent BaheuxDinara Safina, runner-up the last two years, lost in the first round to a player who came out of a 12-year retirement in 2008.

Henin took a big step Tuesday in her return from retirement, beating Tsvetana Pironkova in the first round of the French Open 6-4, 6-3. The match was Henin's first at Roland Garros since 2007, when she won the tournament for the fourth time.

"I didn't know really what to expect and how I was going to deal with my emotions," the Belgian said. "As I walked in and I was into my match, I felt a lot of things were coming back. It was just fantastic to share this again with the crowd, as they gave me one more time great support. So it was very good to be back."

Last year's finalist Dinara Safina crashed out in the first round. The ninth-seeded Safina lost 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 to veteran Kimiko Date Krumm of Japan.

The 39-year-old Date Krumm, who came out of a 12-year retirement in 2008, became the second-oldest woman to win a match at Roland Garros in the Open Era after Virginia Wade in 1985.

"I'm really happy. I tried my best," Date Krumm said after the French crowd gave her a standing ovation.

Henin rejoined the tour in January following a 20-month retirement, and while she's seeded only 22nd, she's considered one of the favorites for the title.

"She has all of the chances to win this tournament," said Pironkova, who had played -- and lost to -- Henin three times before. "She still plays great. I don't think she lost [anything] with that rest that she had. I think she is playing even better. She's faster, and her strokes are more secure."

Henin endured some ragged moments in the second set, when Pironkova won three consecutive games for a 3-2 lead. Henin swept 10 points in a row to regain control, and following another wobble serving at 4-3, she took the final six points.

"I didn't serve really good in that match, that's for sure," Henin said. "First round is never easy. So I'm just happy I came through."

Henin hit picturesque backhands, nifty drop shots and booming overhead slams -- all staples in a repertoire that has helped her win seven Grand Slam titles. She also missed more than half of her first serves, however, and blew a handful of easy putaways.

"I've worked pretty hard in the last few months, but the way is still very long," she said. "I'm probably less consistent now than I was in terms of keeping the intensity all the time. That's what I'm working on at the moment."

Despite the inconsistent play, Henin extended her winning streak at Roland Garros to 22 consecutive matches and 37 consecutive sets. She hasn't lost at the French Open since 2004.

Maria Sharapova reached the second round by easily beating a Russian qualifier. Trying to win the only Grand Slam title missing from her résumé, the 12th-seeded Sharapova eliminated 110th-ranked Ksenia Pervak 6-3, 6-2.

Sharapova had won 24 consecutive first-round matches at Grand Slams until being upset at that stage at the Australian Open in January. Now she's starting a new streak.

Sharapova's best showing at Roland Garros was the 2007 semifinals. She missed time this season with a right elbow injury but won a clay-court tuneup at Strasbourg last weekend.

"I think I have a great game for the clay," said Sharapova. "If I play aggressive in the way I play, I'm certainly moving a lot better than I did, say, four or five years ago. I can play longer matches. I don't get as tired. It's a matter of doing it."

It was the 18-year-old Pervak's debut in the main draw of a major tournament.

Date Krumm is playing at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 1996. She made her Grand Slam debut at the French Open in 1989, when Safina was 3 years old.

The only older woman to win a match at Roland Garros in the Open era was Virginia Wade, who was also 39 in 1985 but 2½ months older than Date Krumm is now.

Playing with her right calf wrapped, Date Krumm committed 63 unforced errors but compensated with 38 winners, while the ninth-seeded Safina struggled with her first serve.

Safina, a former top-ranked player, was runner-up at Roland Garros in 2008 and 2009. After returning from a back injury, she lost opening matches in Rome and Madrid.

"I will have to swallow this loss and keep on moving," said Safina, younger sister of two-time major champion Marat Safin. "After rain, always sun comes."

Warm, hazy weather had players seeking refuge under umbrellas in their changeover chairs, and the conditions seemed to suit seeded players. Other seeded women advancing included No. 13 Marion Bartoli, No. 16 Yanina Wickmayer, No. 18 Shahar Peer, No. 21 Vera Zvonareva, No. 23 Daniela Hantuchova, No. 25 Zheng Jie and No. 29 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Two U.S. women advanced -- Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jill Craybas. Mattek-Sands, pushing the fashion envelope by wearing black socks nearly to her knees, beat fellow American Vania King 6-2, 6-2. Craybas defeated Katie O'Brien of Britain 6-0, 4-6, 6-2.

"It's a challenge for us because a lot of Americans don't grow up on the clay," said Craybas. "The men and women are both embracing the challenge."

Venus and Serena Williams won their first-round doubles match, dropping only one game.

The top-seeded Americans beat Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium and Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand 6-0, 6-1.

The Williams sisters are seeking their 12th Grand Slam doubles title together and fourth in a row. They won the French Open doubles championship in 1999.

Both had a day off in singles, where Serena is seeded No. 1 and Venus is No. 2.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.