Serena ousted in third round, Sharapova wins

Melbourne, January 20:

Outplayed from the start, defending champion Serena Williams was beaten 6-1, 7-6 (5) on Friday in the third round of the Australian Open by Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova.

Williams had struggled with her form in her first two matches, overcoming a flood of errors to get by two low-ranked opponents. But Hantuchova, seeded 17th, fully exposed her weaknesses, taking advantage of Williams’ inconsistent ground strokes and keeping her on the move.

She clinched it on her fifth match point when Williams hit a return wide. Williams finished with 37 unforced errors and only 17 winners.

While showing flashes of the brilliance that earned her seven Grand Slam titles, Williams never found a groove against the 22-year-old Hantuchova, who has never made it past the quarter-finals of a major and will next play World No 4 Maria Sharapova.

Williams’ loss means there will be no repeat singles champion here. Marat Safin, the 2005 men’s winner, didn’t make it to Melbourne due to injury.

After winning 17 of the first 18 points, No 2 Andy Roddick zipped past Julien Benneteau 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 under a broiling sun. Roddick smashed 17 aces, including three in the final game to finish in 1 hour, 22 minutes. Now Roddick will face Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, and his large contingent of rowdy supporters.

It was a day better suited to hitting the beach than hitting tennis balls. Bags of ice dangled around players’ necks or draped across their thighs. Shade was a precious commodity. The extreme heat policy was put in effect when the temperature exceeded 35 Celsius. New matches on outside courts were suspended under the heat stress index guideline, which combines the ambient air temperature and court surface temperature. Five matches were postponed when a late storm came through.

Top-seeded Lindsay Davenport struggled hitting 42 unforced errors. Davenport beat Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. She slightly twisted her ankle but said she should be fine by Sunday, when she faces Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded 14th and one of four Russians to advance Friday.

On the men’s side, eighth-seeded Gaston Gaudio of Argentina fell to unseeded Fabrice Santoro of France, appearing in his 55th Grand Slam event. Masters Cup champion David Nalbandian advanced defeating No 26 Jarkko Nieminin. Nalbandian had a behind-the-back volley winner. No 11 David Ferrer beat No 18 Mario Ancic 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

Sharapova routed Jelena Kostanic 6-0, 6-1. The 2004 Wimbledon champion, Sharapova lost to Williams in the semi-finals last year. Other Russians who advanced to the fourth round were No 6 Nadia Petrova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Vesnina. French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne had a 6-4, 6-1 win over Virginie Razzano.

Third Round Results

Men: David Ferrer beat Mario Ancic 6-3, 6-3, 6-3; Andy Roddick beat Julien Benneteau 6-1, 6-2, 6-2; Fabrice Santoro beat Gaston Gaudio 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 1-6, 6-4; David Nalbandian beat Jarkko Nieminen 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5; Marcos Baghdatis beat Denis Gremelmayr 6-2, 6-1, 6-2; Thomas Johansson beat Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-2, 6-1; Ivan Ljubicic beat Feliciano Lopez 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-0.

Women: Maria Sharapova beat Jelena Kostanic 6-0, 6-1; Elena Vesnina beat Olga Savchuk 5-7, 6-2, 6-4; Nadia Petrova beat Maria Elena Camerin 6-1, 6-2; Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Mara Santangelo 6-3, 6-1; Virginia Ruano Pascual beat Laura Granville 6-3, 6-3; Lindsay Davenport beat Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 4-6, 6-2; Justine Henin-Hardenne beat Virginie Razzano 6-4, 6-1; Daniela Hantuchova beat Serena Williams 6-1, 7-6 (5).