Top seeds advance in Rome

Wednesday, May 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROME (AP) _ One day after top-ranked Venus Williams withdrew, several top seeds advanced Wednesday in the dlrs 1.22 million Italian Open.

Williams' sister Serena defeated Italy's Rita Grande 6-0, 6-3; defending champion Jelena Dokic beat Israel's Anna Smashnova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1; and third-seeded Kim Clijsters downed Elena Likhovtseva 6-3, 6-2.

After rolling through the first set with little resistance from Grande, Williams lost her serve in the second set's opening game. But the No. 4 seed broke right back and never lost control again against the scrambling Italian, who was urged on by the home crowd throughout the match.

``It seems like when I go places, I always tend to play their countrymen, so I'm used to it now,'' the 20-year-old American said.

Dokic's three-set win took a little more effort.

``It was my first win here, and to come back as a defending champion is not easy,'' the No. 6 seed said. ``I could have played better, but I'm glad I won.''

Clijsters traded breaks with Likhovtseva to open the match, but then the Belgian's heavy hitting wore down the Russian.

``After I lost in Berlin in the first round, I felt like I really had time to practice and to recover after my long week in Hamburg,'' said Clijsters, who won the Hamburg event and lost in the first round last week.

``So I felt like I was fit again and I was hungry to play tennis. It was good,'' Clijsters said.

Two other top players also advanced.

Belgium's Justine Henin, the No. 5 seed who won her first title of the year Sunday at the German Open, defeated Italy's Francesca Schiavone 7-6 (5), 6-2. And seventh-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France ousted compatriot Nathalie Dechy 6-1, 7-5.

Elsewhere at the Foro Italico, Mary Pierce, a former top-ten player regaining her form after a series of injuries, beat 13th-seeded Patty Schnyder of Switzerland 6-3, 1-6, 6-2.

Also Wednesday, No. 8 seed Sandrine Testud of France rolled over Ukraine's Julia Vakulenko 6-1, 6-1 and 16th-seeded Tatiana Panova of Russia won when Slovakia's Henrieta Nagyova retired with a thigh injury while down 6-0, 5-2.

Italy's top player and tournament No. 9 seed, Silvia Farina Elia, beat Austria's Barbara Schett 6-2, 6-4 in the featured night match.

Williams's withdrawal came just minutes before her highly anticipated match Tuesday night against Russian star Anna Kournikova.

The top-seeded American appeared on court and apologized to the crowd, saying she could not play after hurting her wrist while picking up a bag at practice this week.

Last year, Williams pulled out of a semifinal against sister Serena in similar fashion at a tournament in Indian Wells, Calif.

``She obviously wanted to play. And if she didn't play it's because she couldn't, because she's fighting to defend No. 1,'' Clijsters said of Williams' slim lead at the top of the rankings over fellow American Jennifer Capriati.

Dokic, however, had a different perspective.

``I would criticize her,'' said the Yugoslav. ``It was really bad to be happening at such a good tournament.

``It's so tough to so many players here. And for her to pull out of the top half there just makes things so much different,'' said Dokic, who is in the draw's bottom half along with the second-seeded Capriati.