Mixed day for Americans at Wimbledon

Updated: June 24, 2008

All business

WIMBLEDON, England -- This trip is gravy, in a way, for Lindsay Davenport. Her son just turned a year old in this season of stolen time, one she initially didn't plan to play at all.

From the time she elected to return in late 2007, Davenport said competing in another Olympics was her main motivation for grinding through a year when she celebrated her 32nd birthday. The first phase of her comeback from maternity leave was smooth, almost surreal. She won four tournaments.

"It was such bliss for the first six months playing and being healthy and being able to practice a hundred percent,'' Davenport said. I really enjoyed it.''

Then, perhaps inevitably, speed bumps erupted in the road. Davenport had planned to play with the Fed Cup team in Moscow, and take her family along to the Rome tournament for a foray on red clay, but that didn't materialize. Here in London, troublesome on-and-off swelling in her right knee flared up again before her first-round match against unseeded Czech Renata Voracova. Davenport walked onto the court heavily taped, and asked for treatment and more tape after dropping the second set. After winning 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, she intended to consult with a doctor Tuesday evening to try to get a handle on what's causing the pain.

AP Photo/Sang Tan

Lindsay Davenport was a finalist the last time she played at Wimbledon in 2005, losing to Venus Williams in three sets.

All this might lead one to believe that Davenport is simply here for old times' sake and doesn't expect a long stay, but her face got ever so slightly stony when that was suggested to her.

"I'm not here going, 'Gosh, I hope I get to the second round. That would be great,' '' she said. "I haven't lost before the quarters here since, I think, '98. So, no, I have a lot of pride playing here and look to do well.''

Wimbledon wasn't always a place Davenport felt comfortable, but it grew on her, and the faster turf of 10 years ago suited her methodical power. She won a title here in 1999 and played in two more finals. The horticulture has changed since then, and so has she, as she laughingly admitted.

"It's slowed a lot,'' she said of the grass. "I think it's slower than three years ago. I mean, I could be hitting the ball slower, too.''

Andy Roddick didn't have a cakewalk either as tenacious Eduardo Schwank, one of the miracle kids of the French Open, kept him busy through a 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 tussle. The agile 22-year-old Argentine won 20 straight matches in May en route before bowing out in the third round in Paris.

"Firstround matches are always a little uncomfortable at any Slam,'' said the sixth-seeded Roddick, a two-time finalist here. "It's a battle with, kind of, anxiety and wanting to get out there and start.''

Roddick next faces Serbian Janko Tipsarevic on his way to a potential round-of-16 match against his good pal and Davis Cup teammate James Blake. The two have played eight times; Roddick won the first six and Blake the last two, including the championship match in Indianapolis in 2006. Their friendship has been spared any competitive encounters since.

Blake started slowly against Belgium's Christophe Rochus but prevailed in four sets.

"Not to try to discredit Christophe, I just was a little shaky at times and had a couple more double faults than I would have liked and I didn't feel like I returned as well,'' Blake said. "But I'm actually kind of proud of that, that I got through a match where I wasn't playing my best tennis so I'm excited to get through.''

Mardy Fish's woes at Wimbledon continued as he fell in straight sets to a surprisingly on-form Richard Gasquet. The French eighth seed has had a miserable couple of months, including the odd episode at the Davis Cup quarterfinal against the U.S. when he begged out of a potentially decisive match against Roddick, and a last-minute withdrawal from the French Open.

Gasquet recently announced that he will not play in the upcoming Olympics, either, leading many to question the desire of the French No. 1, but there was no question about his quality of play against Fish Tuesday.

"I saw someone extremely confident on this surface,'' said Fish, who like Blake has never advanced past the third round here. "He serves extremely well and he takes an absolute crack at the first ball. He bombs the serve and if he doesn't get you stretched out then, he's perfectly content to loop the ball back and start over and be patient.

"He served out wide, so I sat on that, then he hit a 135 mph serve on the T. I was fine with the way I played. He played above and beyond what I expected. He has points to defend here and if he doesn't, he's going to be nowhere near the top 10. I think he's desperate, and he took it out on me.''

Gasquet played a transcendent match to eliminate Roddick in last year's Wimbledon quarterfinals and made hay out of grass again Tuesday. "From what I saw of Richard today he came out and kind of saved all his good tennis for the year and used it today,'' Roddick said.

The U.S. scorecard was mixed Tuesday. Roddick, Blake and Jesse Levine -- who defeated another American, Donald Young -- survived. Floridian Wayne Odesnik, who entered Wimbledon with a career-high ranking of No. 87 after reaching the third round at Roland Garros, retired after one set of his match with Finland's Jarkko Nieminen due to a sore abductor muscle. John Isner fell to fast-rising Latvian talent Ernests Gulbis.

Davenport and defending champion Venus Williams were the only U.S. women to advance as Vania King and Julie Ditty lost their openers.

Israelis Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, the reigning Australian Open doubles champions, were nearly upset in a marathon first-round match against the unseeded American tandem of Scott Lipsky and David Martin. Lipsky and Martin took the first two sets but the third-seeded Israelis clawed back to even the match at 2-all and the fifth set was suspended at eight games apiece Monday because of darkness.

Erlich and Ram broke the Americans in their second service game after the match resumed to win the fifth set 11-9.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Five things we learned on Tuesday

1. It pays to get some prep, at least if you're Davydenko: Nikolay Davydenko was the only men's player in the top eight not to contest a grass-court tune-up prior to Wimbledon. Guess what? The fourth-seeded Russian was bundled out in the first round by the previously slumping Benjamin Becker 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Nikolay Davydenko became the highest-seeded Wimbledon casualty, losing to Benjamin Becker.

Davydenko opted instead to enter the clay-court Orange Prokom Open in Sopot, Poland -- which he won -- and spent a week practicing on the lawns at the All England Club.

"We'll see what's happening next year, what I can do and what I can change for the future for the grass court,'' said Davydenko, who actually got to the fourth round last year, his best ever showing at Wimbledon.

Becker, 2-6 in his last eight matches and ranked outside the top 100, broke Davydenko four times and took advantage of five double faults. One of the top returners around, Davydenko manufactured just two break points, despite the German registering a first-serve percentage of 62.

"I play really bad,'' Davydenko said.

2. Gasquet is back on track: By the looks of things, Richard Gasquet is slowly emerging from his slumber.

Gasquet, the topsy-turvy Frenchman, made a tough first-round match appear easy, taking down big-swinging American Mardy Fish 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. He of the majestic one-handed backhand, Gasquet delivered 45 winners, coughing up only 14 unforced errors.

Fish, ranked 39th, didn't exactly self-destruct, finishing plus-15 in the winners to unforced errors department. The first serve percentage, mind you, was 48.

"I was playing great,'' Gasquet said. "Today it was one of my best matches maybe in my career. I was playing really good with my serve and my backhand.''

Gasquet, sure to plunder out of the top 10 if he fails to repeat last year's semifinal showing, is France's major threat at Wimbledon, given that injuries ruled out Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Gasquet skipped Roland Garros with a bum knee.

"I am sad for them because they are friends of mine, but it's not a big problem,'' he said. "I have to play for myself.''

3. Don't take Rafa's serve lightly: Rafael Nadal's serve a weakness? Those days are long gone.

The bulging Spaniard has bettered much of his game the last few years, serve included, and sent down 17 aces in a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (0) first-round victory over German Andreas Beck. The only time he hit more aces was two years ago at Wimbledon, thumping 18 versus Andre Agassi in the third round.

Nadal, using his lefty serve out wide on the ad-court more effectively, also impressed en route to capturing the Artois Championships.

"I improve because I am young and I must improve,'' Nadal said. "I practice to always improve, every day, every month. My goal always is to be better, so for that reason I improved a little bit my serve.''

Up next for Nadal is the tricky Ernests Gulbis.

4. Long women's first-round matches do exist: The second longest women's singles match at Wimbledon, in terms of time, unfolded on the backwaters of Court 16, as German Julia Goerges rallied past 23rd-seeded Slovenian Katarina Srebotnik -- Serena Williams's conqueror at the French Open -- 4-6, 7-6 (6), 16-14 in three hours, 40 minutes. The last set alone went on for more than two hours and featured 25 break points, 15 converted.

Only American Chanda Rubin's 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 17-15 win over Canada's Patricia Hy-Boulais in 1995 lasted longer, by five minutes.

Another thriller saw 20th-seeded Italian Francesca Schiavone battle past Austrian teen Tamira Paszek 10-8 in the third.

5. Those darn Brits can play: Surprise, surprise, Andy Murray isn't the lone Briton in the second round. Three others -- yes, three -- joined him.

Murray ousted French veteran Fabrice Santoro on Center Court, Chris Eaton toppled Serb Boris Pashanski and Anne Keothavong downed American Vania King today. Yesterday, Elena Baltacha advanced.

Eaton's story is somewhat heart warming. The lowest-ranked player in the singles draw at 661st, Eaton earned a wild-card into qualifying and downed the experienced Olivier Patience in the final round.

"My hard work's has paid off for me,'' Eaton said.

-- Ravi Ubha



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Jesse Levine, a 20-year-old from Boca Raton via Ottawa, Canada, began his Tuesday match by winning the first three games.

"I came out to a flying start," he explained, "and then I think my body finally realized where I was."

He laughed, in spite of himself. It was easy for Levine to see the humor because, after dropping the first set to Donald Young 4-6, he ran off three straight sets -- 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

It was Levine's first Wimbledon main-draw match, and he's now a perfect 1-0 for his career.

"Nerves, obviously, played a little factor," Levine said. "And he came back and played a very good first set. Mentally, I knew that there was a long way to go."

On a day when big-name Americans like Roddick, Blake and Williams (Venus) won at the All England Club, Levine's effort whistled well under the radar. Young, 18, is the more well-known player by far. He's ranked No. 85 among ATP players and was automatically included in the men's draw.

Levine? He had to qualify, beating Irakli Labadze, Pavel Chekhov and Alexandre Kudryavtsev. The Chekov score was a zany 6-3, 7-8 (8), 11-9.

Next up is another lefty, Jurgen Melzer of Austria.

Levine bounded happily around the broadcast compound after the match, doing interviews with Tennis Channel and ESPN.com. His cell phone was blowing up with messages, mostly from his former teammates at the University of Florida.

"Obviously, as a kid you dream of playing on stadium, so that's the next step," he said. "But best-out-of-five at Wimbledon, it's obviously a great experience."

-- Greg Garber

Nice gesture


In a minor slump with two of his main rivals surging like a tidal wave, Roger Federer still found time to meet one of his biggest fans after practice today, a college-aged cancer survivor from Chicago.

The world No. 1 and five-time defending Wimbledon champ briefly chatted with Eric Teng and his family, signing autographs and posing for a picture. Teng is sticking around to catch Federer's second-round tilt versus Robin Soderling tomorrow.

"He's my favorite player,'' Teng said, proudly showing off Federer's autograph on the back of his t-shirt. "I never thought I'd be able to meet him''

Teng was diagnosed with Nasopharyngeal cancer, which, according to the American Cancer Society, "tends to spread widely, is not often treated by surgery, and has different risk factors from most oral cancers.'' He was diagnosed two years ago, lost 30 pounds undergoing treatment, and became cancer free in May 2007.

Minutes earlier, Federer completed a hitting session with good friend and occasional doubles partner Yves Allegro, the highlight perhaps coming when Allegro got the better of Federer in a baseline rally and let out an emphatic, "come on,'' drawing a smile from the other side of the net.

Marat Safin, gearing up for his second-round clash against Novak Djokovic tomorrow, was on the next court practicing with unassuming fifth-seed David Ferrer. At one point, Safin mishit a forehand, the ball landing on a court behind them, prompting the Russian to jokingly toss his racket in Ferrer's direction.

Wonder how many rackets will go flying against

-- Ravi Ubha

The jokester


It's not all serious stuff at the Grand Slams. At least not in Nicolas Mahut's case.

The Frenchman, in one of those scenes that pop up around ball parks across the U.S., just couldn't leave countryman Thierry Ascione alone as he was being interviewed by French TV network Canal Plus.

Mahut first tried to throw off Ascione by standing behind the cameraman and making hand gestures. Then came the funny faces. Next, and most humorous, Mahut knelt down and slithered a racket between the legs and into Ascione's groin area, leading to a few extra takes.

Mahut wasn't laughing by day's end. The 2007 Artois finalist was ousted by inconsistent Russian Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 6-7, 7-6, 3-6, 7-5.

-- Ravi Ubha

Critics' choice


Novak Djokovic vs. Marat Safin: The mercurial Russian holds an edge over the 21-year-old Serb -- 2-1 for career Grand Slam singles titles. This is one of those delicious second-round matches that are a random gift of the draw. Clearly, Safin has the tools to extend the World No. 3, but at the age of 28 he's on the downside of his career; he's 11-13 so far this year.

ESPN.com prediction: Djokovic over Safin in three.

-- Greg Garber