Safina, Venus out in Beijing; Djokovic advances
BEIJING:Top seed Dinara Safina imploded at the China Open on Monday, losing to an unheralded Chinese player and opening the door for Serena Williams to reclaim the world number one ranking from the Russian.
Third seed Venus Williams also crashed out of the tournament, losing for the second week in a row to talented Russian teen Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, leaving the women's draw in Beijing in disarray.
On the men's side, Serbia's Novak Djokovic, the number two seed, dropped his serve once early against Romania's Victor Hanescu but worked out his jitters to take the match in straight sets, 6-3, 7-5.
China's Zhang Shuai, 20 years old and ranked 226th in the world, thrilled the partisan crowd on centre court at the Olympic tennis venue by pulling off the second-round win over the raven-haired Safina, 7-5, 7-6 (7/5).
Safina -- who also lost early in Tokyo last week to a Taiwanese teenaged qualifier -- struggled with her serve throughout the match, with a total of 13 double faults.
After dropping the first set, the 23-year-old Russian -- slamming balls and screaming in frustration -- could not settle down in the second, repeatedly failing to consolidate her breaks of Zhang's serve by surrendering her own.
Zhang served for the match at 5-4 but Safina battled back to 5-5 and then into a tiebreak. Zhang won the battle of wills, closing it out with a winner down the line, to the roar of the crowd.
"If my plan was to win the match, I had to remain calm," a smiling Zhang told reporters.
"I was pretty confident inside, but I did not show it."
Safina cancelled her press conference after the match.
Serena Williams, the second seed here, needs only to have a better result than Safina here to claim the number one ranking, according to the WTA. She will face Russia's Ekaterina Makarova in the second round.
As for Venus, she was looking to avenge her loss to Pavlyuchenkova at last week's Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, but she never found her rhythm against the 18-year-old Russian, who won 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
"She played really well and unfortunately sometimes I made an error too soon," a dejected Williams told reporters.
The 29-year-old American eked out the first set, but Pavlyuchenkova, the world number 39, remained undaunted, breaking Williams to go up 3-1 in the second set and cruising to force the third-set decider.
She again broke Williams in the first game of the third set and started to dictate play, with the seven-time Grand Slam winner failing to find her range, spraying ground strokes both into the net and beyond the baseline.
The Russian, serving for the match at 5-2, battled her nerves, double faulting to lose the game at love. Williams held her serve, but Pavlyuchenkova steadied herself to seal the win with a forehand winner.
"I just wanted to enjoy the match and enjoy playing out there. I mean, I have nothing really to lose, and I just went with that spirit on court," the Russian said, adding there was "no secret" to her success against Williams.
"I'm quite happy."
Men's world number four Djokovic earned some easy points with 10 aces in his win over Hanescu, the world number 27, but said he hoped to find a better rhythm before his next match.
"I was happy overall with the way I played. It's just that I thought I could have finished the job earlier," Djokovic said after the match, noting that he was still slightly jet-lagged.
"You could see that in the second set, I was a bit sleepy," the 22-year-old Serb admitted. "Hopefully, the next match will be more consistent and I'll be able to play my best."
In other first-round ATP action, eighth seed Marin Cilic of Croatia beat Russia's Igor Andreev, 6-4, 6-4, and Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber defeated Ivo Karlovic 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 6-1, despite the big-serving Croat's 27 aces.
On the women's side of the draw, sixth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia easily advanced into the round of 16, beating Spain's Anabel Medina Garrigues, 6-2, 6-1.