TAUZIAT and Maleeva fall, Sanchez-Vicario cruises.

Wednesday, May 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROME (AP) _ Nathalie Tauziat and Magdalena Maleeva became the latest seeded stars to be eliminated from the Italian Open, as both dropped second-round matches Wednesday.

South Africa's Joannette Kruger knocked out fifth-seeded Tauziat of France 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, while Italian Francesca Schiavone took care of eighth-seeded Maleeva of Bulgaria 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (1).

Seventh-seeded Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario rolled into the third round, beating Germany's Bianka Lamade 6-2, 6-3.

``The first match is always the most difficult,'' said the Spanish veteran. ``I feel very comfortable with how I'm playing.''

Jelena Dokic of Yugoslavia, seeded 14th, also advanced in a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 win over Patty Schnyder of Switzerland.

Other second round winners Wednesday on the clay courts of Foro Italico included Nadia Petrova and Lina Krasnoroutskaya two members of the WTA's rising Russian contingent, which knocked out three seeded stars from the first round.

On Tuesday, top-seeded Martina Hingis beat Tatiana Panova on Foro Italico's red clay in less than an hour, winning 6-2, 6-3.

The Swiss star hopes to be ready for a crack at a title in Paris, where she's reached _ and lost _ two finals.

``I have as much chance now as I've ever had to win the French Open,'' she said after her win Tuesday. ``I feel more confident.''

Second-seeded Jennifer Capriati of the United States, who made her professional debut in Rome a decade ago, was slated to make her debut this year in the dlrs 1.185 million clay-court event later Wednesday.

Capriati, who won this year's Australian Open, was set to face Rita Kuti Kis of Hungary.

On Tuesday, Russians Petrova, Krasnoroutskya and Elena Likhovtseva moved into the second round at Foro Italico without dropping a set to their three seeded opponents.

Petrova took down 10th-seeded Mary Pierce just two weeks before the French national is set to defend her Roland Garros crown.

Pierce searched for her wind and her timing throughout the 6-2, 6-4 loss, her first match this year on European clay.

``It'd be easy for me to get down on myself and have all these negative emotions,'' Pierce said. ``But you know, it's not a big deal.''

Krasnoroutskya beat ninth-seeded Anke Huber of Germany 6-2, 6-3, while Likhovtseva eliminated 15th-seeded Barbara Schett of Austria 6-2, 6-4.

In other action on Tuesday, No. 12 Sandrine Testud lost 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 to Italian Silvia Farina Elia while third-seeded Conchita Martinez of Spain breezed into the third round with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Janette Husarova of Slovakia.

The top eight seeded players received a first-round bye in the key tuneup for the French Open, which begins May 28.

In the early center-court match, Petrova _ 62nd in the WTA rankings _ controlled play on Foro Italico's red clay, winning in less than an hour as Pierce appeared less than fully present.

``She didn't play her best,'' Petrova, 24, said of her opponent. ``I was just hitting a little bit away from her and she wouldn't move.''

Pierce broke Petrova just once, to even the second set at 2-2, but the Russian broke right back at love to go up 3-2.

Pierce, who won the Rome tournament in 1997, was asked what aspect of her game needed work. ``Everything,'' she said dryly.

Since January, the 26-year-old has seen limited action, failing to get past the round of 16 in her last five tournaments.

Pierce will have to regain her form quickly if she hopes for a chance to repeat her emotional victory at Roland Garros, the first by a French woman in more than three decades.