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Venus avoids upset in first round
VENUS 6 col bw
Venus Williams returns a shot from Russia's Alla Kudryavtseva during their Women's Singles, first round match at Wimbledon, Tuesday. The three-time champion Williams came back from a break down in the last two sets to avoid a major first-round surprise Tuesday against Kudryavtseva. - photo by Associated Press
    WIMBLEDON, England — Three-time champion Venus Williams came back from a break down in the last two sets to avoid a major first-round surprise Tuesday against a Russian teenager playing her first match at Wimbledon.
    Williams appeared on the brink of defeat, but came up with big first serves and baseline winners on crucial points to overcome Alla Kudryavtseva 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 in nearly two hours on Court 2 — known as the ‘‘Graveyard of Champions’’ for its history of upsets.
    Williams was two points from defeat while serving at 5-4 down, 30-30, in the final set. But the Russian missed a backhand, and Williams smacked a 192 kph (119 mph) service winner to hold. Williams then broke in the next game and served out the match at love.
    ‘‘I enjoy the battle,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I enjoy winning matches like this. This is what I do. If you want to be successful at anything, it doesn’t come easy.’’
    Two other Wimbledon women’s champions had a much easier time in reaching the second round. Defending champion Amelie Mauresmo beat Jamea Jackson of the United States 6-1, 6-3, while 2004 winner Maria Sharapova downed Chan Yung-jan of Taiwan 6-1, 7-5.
    In men’s play, second-seeded Rafael Nadal and former champion Lleyton Hewitt were among the winners, but Britain’s Tim Henman drew the loudest cheers by outlasting Carlos Moya 13-11 in the fifth set.
    For a while, it looked like Williams would go out in the opening round for the first time since her Wimbledon debut in 1997. Since then, she won the title in 2000, ’01 and ’05, and finished runner-up twice to her sister, Serena, in 2002 and 2003.
    Serena, seated courtside with their mother, Oracene Price, called out encouragement and advice throughout the match.
    ‘‘It’s so important to have that support,’’ Venus Williams said. ‘‘It was definitely key today for my win.’’
    The 19-year-old Kudryavtseva, who was born in Moscow but lives in Miami, is ranked No. 59. She reached the second round at the Australian Open and the third round at Roland Garros this year, and pushed Williams to the limit with a tenacious game and fighting spirit.
    After losing the first set in a flood of errors, Williams fell behind 2-0 in the second. But she won six of the next seven games to send the match into a third set.
    The Russian went up 3-1, but Williams broke back for 3-2 and registered the decisive break in the 11th game. The set featured long rallies, tight games and several disputed line calls. At various times, Kudryavtseva slammed her racket on the turf and against the back fence, smacked a ball in anger and complained to the chair umpire. She was in tears as she walked off the court.
    It took two days for Henman to win his first-round match against Moya.
    A double-fault by Moya on the third match point of the 24th game of the set gave Henman a 6-3, 1-6, 5-7, 6-2, 13-11 win that enthralled the Centre Court crowd.
    Henman, a four-time semifinalist playing in his 14th Wimbledon, had been tied 5-5 with Moya in the fifth set when the first-round match was stopped because of darkness Monday night. Henman missed four match points at 5-4.
    ‘‘It would have been pretty sweet to finish it off last night,’’ he said. ‘‘Perhaps this scenario is even better.’’
    Henman, who has a tradition of pulling out five-set victories at Wimbledon, has lost in the second round the last two years. The last British man to win the title at Wimbledon was Fred Perry in 1936, but Henman has been closest to ending that streak in recent years.
    ‘‘This place is so special to me and I’ve had so many experiences over the years I always believe that good things are going to happen,’’ he said.
    Nadal, coming off his third straight French Open title on clay, looked sharp in his return to the Centre Court grass, beating Mardy Fish 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3. Nadal produced an ace down the middle on match point.
    The Spaniard had 40 winners to 15 errors, broke Fish twice and saved the only two break points he faced. Nadal, who lost to Roger Federer in last year’s final, is aiming to become the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1978-80 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year.
    Hewitt, the only champion in the men’s field other than four-time winner Federer, beat British wild card Richard Bloomfield 7-5, 6-3, 7-5.
    Third-seeded Jelena Jankovic, No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 8 Anna Chakvetadze were among the women who reached the second round.
    In men’s play, No. 4 Novak Djokovic defeated Potito Starace of Italy 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 and No. 9 James Blake beat Igor Andreev 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Other winners included No. 13 Richard Gasquet, No. 15 Ivan Ljubicic and No. 26 Marat Safin.
    Henman and Moya both pulled out some brilliant shots under pressure — including aces, running passing shots and stab volleys — to keep the match going.
    Henman saved two break points while serving at 11-all — the first with an ace down the middle, and the second with a stunning second-serve ace, a high-kicking delivery into Moya’s backhand corner.
    In the next game, Henman got to 15-40 on Moya’s serve by lifting a soft backhand lob that just drifted over the leaping Spaniard’s extended racket. Henman squandered the first match point with a misplayed backhand return, and Moya saved the second with a backhand volley winner. After an error at deuce, the match ended with Moya hitting a second serve long.
    ‘‘You’d like to finish on a running forehand pass to finish it,’’ Henman said. ‘‘But at that point you’re open to any gifts.’’