Serena on top, Nadal survives

BEIJING: American tennis superstar Serena Williams regained the World No 1 ranking on Tuesday with an easy win at the China Open, while Rafael Nadal survived a scare in his opening match.

Defending champions Andy Roddick and Jelena Jankovic were both upset at the $6.6-million tournament, a combined ATP/WTA event aimed at bolstering China’s position as a key tennis marketplace. Russians Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva advanced

to the round of 16 in the women’s draw, as did their countryman Marat Safin, on a day of blinding A-list star power at the Olympic tennis centre.

Williams, the second seed here and current World No 2, breezed past Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova, 6-3, 6-2, into the round of 16, ensuring that her name will be atop the WTA rankings when the new list is issued on Monday. The path to the top spot was cleared for the 28-year-old Williams, who last held

the top ranking in April, when current No 1 Dinara Safina crashed out of the tournament on Monday, losing to Chinese wild card Zhang Shuai.

Nadal, the top seed and World No 2, held off a fierce challenge from former Australian Open champion Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, winning in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. The hard-hitting baseliners remained even throughout much of the match, delighting the crowd with long rallies and hitting amazing angles with their ground strokes.

Nadal got the upper hand by taking the first set, but the Cypriot bounced right back to take the second. At 4-4 in the third set, the left-handed Spaniard pounced, breaking Baghdatis and then serving out the match, exulting when the Cypriot’s final stroke landed in the net.

Roddick stumbled out in straight sets to Polish qualifier Lukasz Kubot, 6-2, 6-4, while China’s Peng Shuai beat eighth seed Jankovic, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. Sharapova fired 13 aces in her gutsy three-set come-from-behind win over ninth seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5.

In other women’s matches, fourth seed Dementieva, fellow Russian seventh seed Vera Zvonareva, 10th seed Flavia Pennetta of Italy and 14th seed Marion Bartoli of France all moved into the round of 16. In the men’s draw, fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko, fifth seed Fernando Verdasco, seventh seed Fernando Gonzalez and Safin all won their opening matches.

Del Potro upset

Tokyo: US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro crashed out of the Japan Open in the first round on Tuesday, beaten by unseeded French qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

The 21-year-old Argentine top seed, playing

his first match since his victory at Flushing Meadows last month, struggled throughout the clash, losing 4-6, 4-6 in 88 minutes. Gilles Simon of France, defending champion Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, and 2001 Tokyo champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia safely went through, all beating Japanese wild card entrants.

Fresh from his victory in Bangkok last weekend, third seed Simon breezed past Takao Suzuki 6-3, 6-4. Fifth seed Berdych whipped Go Soeda 6-2, 6-4, while eighth seed Hewitt beat Tatsuma Ito 6-1, 7-5.

In the second set, the Frenchman saved all six break points he faced and notched up his first victory over one of the world’s top five-seeded players. Del Potro blamed the loss on jet lag and a stomach problem. In the second round, Roger-Vasselin takes on Jurgen Melzer of Austria.