Monday, August 29, 2005

Sharapova and Agassi Have Easy Night

On opening night at Arthur Ashe Stadium, crowd favorites Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi had no trouble with their first round opponents. Both won in straight sets, easily through to the second round at the U.S. Open.

The women's top seed took centre court first against fiesty Greek Eleni Daniilidou, whose claim to fame was a first round Wimbledon upset of French Open winner Justine Henin-Hardenne two months prior. Early on, she tested Sharapova with impressive groundstrokes, forcing several unforced errors. But despite three break chances in the opening game, she couldn't cash in. On her serve, another lengthy battle took place with Sharapova notching the first of five breaks to gain a 2-0 lead. Amazingly, the first two games took over 20 minutes.

Daniilidou had three more opportunities on Sharapova's next service game to put the set back on serve but once again, couldn't convert due in large part to the Russian's resilience. That seemed to take the fight out as she struggled serving seven double faults. Sharapova breezed through the rest of the 42 minute first set and needed just 24 more to win 6-1, 6-1.

Back from a sore pectoral muscle, Sharapova showed no affects, serving four aces, no doubles and 22 winners to just three for her opponent. She'll take on Dally Randriantefy in the next round. With 14th seed Alicia Molik upset by American Shenay Perry 6-4, 6-4, it leaves no remaining seeds in the next three rounds for Sharapova. The only two left in her bracket are Nadia Petrova and Nicole Vaidisova, one of which could play her in the quarterfinals. That's if they don't fall victim first.

Entering his 20th consecutive Open, Agassi came out to rousing cheers from the New York capacity crowd. The two-time winner of the event then made quick work of Romanian Razvan Sabau, prevailing 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in just 69 minutes.

Looking sharp, the 35-year-old American got 67 percent of his first serves in, winning 87 percent of those points. He also won 74 percent on his second serve, allowing just one break in the match. Agassi fired 11 aces, just one double fault and hit 34 winners. The great returner of serve picked apart Sabau breaking him seven of eight times.

Afterwards, he still admitted to nerves early on because "people are taking time out of their day to watch me play," which drew a loud roar of approval from the spectators remaining. At his age, the crafty vet appreciates it more and seems to feed off the crowd. After all these years, Agassi still knows how to captivate an audience.

In what could be his final Flushing appearance, Agassi is trying for one more big run that could produce his third Open and ninth career slam title. Last year, at 34, he was the toughest out for defending champ Roger Federer, losing in a two day five set wind swept quarterfinal.

So, does he have one more run in him? He'll have a tough test in the second round against Croatian bomber Ivo Karlovic, who rocketed 32 aces in a four set win over American Mardy Fish. You know who most of the crowd will be pulling for on Thursday.

Also advancing were seeded players Guillermo Coria, Richard Gasquet, Thomas Johansson and Tommy Robredo.

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