Slam champs slammed in first round

Slammed: You won't find a reigning Grand Slam champion in the women's draw at Flushing Meadows the rest of the U.S. Open. They're gone. A day after Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova lost to Alexandra Dulgheru, French Open winner Li Na was upset in the first round by Simona Halep on Tuesday, 6-2, 7-5. Kim Clijsters, the 2010 U.S. Open winner and 2011 Australian Open champion, withdrew before the tourney because of injury.

It's the first time since 1971 that the second round of the U.S. Open does not include any of the year's women's Grand Slam champions.

Is the spate of upsets a sign of weakness at the top of the women's game, or depth at the lower levels? Or is it merely that the best player in the game, Serena Williams, has missed three of the last four Slams because of injury?

"I think there's definitely more depth, which is a good thing,'' 18-time Grand Slam winner Chris Evert said Tuesday after Li's loss. "But the disappointing thing is, when Serena and Venus [Williams] were out of the game this year, nobody stepped up to the plate and took advantage of that opportunity. And it also says that, maybe the two players we're talking about, Kvitova and Li Na, maybe they just had a really hot tournament. They were just hot for those two weeks. Maybe they're not meant to be champions week in and week out but just had a great, great tournament [when they won their Slams].''

Indeed, Li, who was a finalist at this year's Australian Open, has not been the same player since she won Roland Garros. She is just 6-6 since her victory in Paris, including a second-round loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon and her first-round loss Tuesday.

Li believes her competitors have raised their game against her because she is a Grand Slam winner. Apparently, she hasn't raised her game to match it. And now her toughest opponent might be herself. "Now I even lose all the confidence on the court,'' she said Tuesday. "I was feeling, 'Oh, tennis just too tough for me, yeah.'"

Second-round showdown: Tennis fans should have a better idea of the career trajectory of Venus Williams and Sabine Lisicki after they face each other in the second round of the Open Wednesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Williams, the two-time champion here and a sentimental favorite in New York, is probably not the match favorite against the No. 22 seeded Lisicki. The hard-serving German won a warm-up tournament at Dallas last week, dropping just 13 games in five matches. That's the fewest games lost in a tournament on the way to a title since 2005. Lisicki, who has won 23 of her last 27 matches, is up to a career high No. 18 after watching her ranking drop to No. 218 in March because of ankle injuries.

Lisicki won at Birmingham, England, in June and used that to help propel her to the semifinals at Wimbledon. She hopes Dallas will give her the same bounce here.

"It's always good to come in with a lot of confidence into a Grand Slam, so I think that helped me a lot today, as well,'' said Lisicki, who beat Alona Bondarenko 6-3, 6-3 in the first round on Tuesday.

Williams lost in the fourth round at Wimbledon and did not play another tournament before the Open, pulling out at Toronto and Cincinnati with a viral illness. Williams beat Russian Vesna Dolonts in the first round here on Monday, 6-4, 6-3.

"The Williams sisters always play well at the Grand Slams, and you can never underestimate them,'' Lisicki said. "So you know, it's for sure going to be a tough match. A very good challenge. But if you want to succeed, you have to beat the best.''

Youth is served: Halep, 19, the highest-ranked teenager in the draw at No. 53, recorded her first win over a Top 10 player when she beat No. 6 Li. The victory comes three weeks after she beat No. 15 Svetlana Kuznetsova in Toronto.

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