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TOP-SEEDED Hingis joins ranks of injured, losers

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ Martina Hingis didn't expect to join the growing list of injured leading women on the Wimbledon sidelines.

She got there anyway with a stunning opening-day loss.

The world's top-ranked player tried to fight through pain in her lower back, but endured the disappointment of a straight-set setback Monday to the 83rd-ranked player.

That 6-4, 6-2 loss to Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain removed a huge obstacle to Jennifer Capriati's bid for the Grand Slam.

Capriati already has won the Australian and French Opens. Monica Seles, Mary Pierce or Anna Kournikova never made it to Wimbledon because of injuries.

``I think Jennifer right now is the favorite, definitely,'' Hingis said after her elimination.

Hingis' own chances dropped about a week ago when the tendinitis in her lower back surfaced. Acupuncture helped, but there wasn't enough time for a full recovery.

As late as Saturday, she said, she thought about skipping the tournament, but said, ``I didn't want to miss Wimbledon.''

Now, all she has to show for her shaky performance in the world's most prestigious tennis tournament is another blemish on her Grand Slam scorecard. She hasn't won any of the last 10 events despite being seeded first in all of them.

``There are no excuses whether you're injured or not. If you step out there, you should play,'' Hingis said. ``I was just afraid to move.''

Capriati and Serena Williams, in the same half of the draw as Hingis, won their matches easily Monday.

Capriati, seeded fourth, beat Maria Alejandra Vento of Venezuela 6-3, 6-2, winning nine straight games in one stretch. And No. 5 Williams barely worked up a sweat in her 40-minute match, a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Rita Kuti Kis of Hungary.

That was the first match completed in this year's tournament. The final match last year was Venus Williams' victory in the final over Lindsay Davenport. Venus and Davenport are in the half of the draw scheduled to play Tuesday.

Ruano Pascual probably won't last much longer, but savored the victory that brought a wide smile to her face as she raised both hands in triumph to the fans at Court 1.

``I'm still dreaming now. It's unbelievable,'' she said. ``I feel very comfortable today out on the court.''

Top-seeded Pete Sampras has felt at home on the Wimbledon grass for the last eight tournaments. He won seven of them and took a stride toward a record eighth title and fifth straight by winning his 29th consecutive Wimbledon match, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4 over Francisco Clavet of Spain on Centre Court.

``I love the court, and when I step out there, I draw a lot of memories,'' said Sampras, who had 19 aces. The surface was ``like it always is the first day. It's very slippery. ... I lost my footing a couple of times.''

A sign of how well his day went came on the final point of the second-set tiebreaker. He skidded and fell on the grass as he hit a deep backhand. But Clavet, facing a wide-open court, netted his return.

Two other men with reasonable championship chances also advanced: fourth-seeded Marat Safin of Russia and sixth-seeded Tim Henman of Britain.

And 18-year-old Andy Roddick, a budding American star, won his Wimbledon debut.

Hingis was just 16 when she won Wimbledon in 1997, but has been eliminated in the first round in two of the last three years. The only other No. 1 women seeds to fall that early were Margaret Smith in 1962 and Steffi Graf in 1994.

But Hingis brushed off her Grand Slam slump.

``I don't think it's such a big failure,'' she said. ``I know if I'm 100 percent, I can go out there and beat anybody.''

She did reach the semifinals at her previous three tournaments and will keep her top ranking after Wimbledon because of her success in second-tier events.

Hingis' loss was as big a surprise as the weather. London, where rain has dampened the Wimbledon experience year after year, suffered through 86-degree temperatures Monday.

Fans, not used to such heat, covered their heads with damp cloths and sought shade. Some spectators and ballgirls fainted.

Ruano Pascual thought Hingis held up well.

``She ran on the court and she served and she did everything, so I don't know she was injured,'' the victor said. ``If she says she was injured, I'm sorry for her.''

For Hingis, there is one consolation.

``Sometimes you just need some time to recover your body and soul, and now I have some time to do it,'' she said.
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