Sat, Jan 21, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Errors trip up Williams

ROUND 3 Daniela Hantuchova seemed to have a fairly easy time defeating a mistake-prone Serena Williams as Andy Roddick beat Julien Benneteau in broiling heat

AP , MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia during her third-round match against Serena Williams of the US at the Australian Open in Melbourne yesterday. Hantuchova defeated Williams 6-1, 7-6. The 17th seed will now face fourth seed Maria Sharapova in Round 4.

PHOTO: AP

Outplayed from the start, defending champion Serena Williams was beaten 6-1, 7-6 (5) yesterday 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.

"I was really set and very ready to play -- I just made a lot of errors," said Williams, who finished with 37 unforced errors and only 17 winners.

"I couldn't find my shots at all. I was hitting balls every which direction."

Despite flashes of the brilliance that earned her seven Grand Slam titles, Williams never found a groove against Hantuchova, who has never made it past the quarterfinals of a major and next faces No. 4 Maria Sharapova.

Hantuchova, seen as a rising star since turning pro at age 16 in 1999, finally lived up to the high expectations. She said she had been her own worst enemy.

"I was not fighting myself at all as I used to," she said. "I had so many matches like this where I was really close to beating the top players and finally I did it today."

She also felt that Williams wasn't at her best.

"I think we all know how well she can really play," Hantuchova said. "But to her credit, I thought she kept fighting till the end."

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.

It also was the earliest that Williams and sister Venus -- who lost in the first round -- have exited a Grand Slam that both contested, and Serena's earliest departure here since the third round in 1999.

Their worst previous joint performance came at the 1999 French Open, when Serena lost in the third round and Venus went out in the fourth.

The evening match started with the sliding roof open on Rod Laver Arena after a storm came through and cooled the heat that led tournament officials to close it in the afternoon.

Hantuchova broke quickly for a 3-1 lead before heavy rain swept across again as Williams served at 15-30.

With Williams unable to gather herself during the respite -- and complaining that the court was still a little slippery after workers toweled it off -- Hantuchova rip-ped through the rest of the set quickly, finishing it off with her third service break.

It was the first time Hantuchova had even taken a set from Williams, who easily won their three previous meetings.

After Hantuchova held for 6-5 in the second set, Williams faced triple match point at 0-40, but saved all three with a swinging forehand winner, a shot on the line deep to Hantuchova's backhand that the Slovak hit wide and an ace.

Williams saved one more match point at 4-6 in the tiebreaker when Hantuchova hit a backhand wide. But Hantuchova finished it with a strong first serve that Williams weakly hit wide.

The cool conditions contrasted to the heat on center court earlier in the day.

Winning 17 of the first 18 points, second-seeded Andy Roddick zipped past frustrated Julien Benneteau 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 under a broiling sun.

"On days like today where it is pretty hot, you just try to get through," Roddick said after smashing 17 aces, including three in the final game to finish in 1 hour, 22 minutes.

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