Serena's opener is close call



No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt was also stretched in his first-round match.
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Serena Williams knew how close she came to being on the losing end of a first-round shocker at the Australian Open.
"I think I was a bit lucky to pull that through," Williams said. "I think it was a little bit of the nerves. I had never lost in the first round of a Grand Slam."
She survived a second-set tie-breaker and finally beat 56th-ranked Emilie Loit of France 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 on Tuesday.
Men
Men's No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt was also stretched in his first-round match -- arguing close line calls throughout his 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-2 win over Swedish qualifier Magnus Larsson, who was in his 11th consecutive Australian Open.
In the fourth set, Larsson pounded Hewitt with a string of unplayable forehands, frustrating the young Australian, forcing errors and winning it -- with his 18th forehand winner -- in a tie-breaker.
Hewitt, who breezed through the first set in 28 minutes and dropped serve only once throughout, finished it in 3 hours, 13 minutes with a backhand down the line.
No Australian has won the Grand Slam on home soil since 1976 and Hewitt has never gone beyond the fourth round. He went out in the first round last year, suffering from a bout of chickenpox.
"I'm feeling a lot of relief after last year," said Hewitt, the reigning Wimbledon champion. "I think the sour taste that was left after last year, I could come out here and get rid of it. I'm going to get better from here."
He had 46 winners and 36 unforced errors, while Larsson produced 41 winners and 61 unforced errors.
Andy Roddick held on for a 6-7 (9), 6-2, 7-6 (0) 6-3 over Zeljko Krajan of Croatia. Roddick led 4-1 in the first set before losing it and trailed 1-4 in the third before winning that set.
Serving for the match, he fired his 19th ace, put away an overhead and got match point with a big service winner. The 20-year-old American, seeded ninth, won with a forehand down the line.
Four-time Australian Open champion Monica Seles, seeded sixth, routed Lubomira Kurhajcova 6-0, 6-1 in 45 minutes in a night match on center court.
Moment of glory
The 19-year-old Kurhajcova, ranked No. 110, raised her arms to the crowd to celebrate when she held serve in the fourth game of the second. She gave Seles the win with a wild forehand return.
Williams overcame 55 unforced errors in her match. The top-ranked woman in the world had been almost unbeatable in winning the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open last year -- she did not lose even a set in taking those last two championships.
But with her mother watching from the stands, Williams almost was chased from the only Grand Slam event she's never won.
"This match is a heads up that everyone wants to beat me," Williams said. "This is a reminder."
The left-handed Loit combined sliced backhands and spin with a forceful forehand to unsettle Williams. Regardless, Williams advanced to the second round, an improvement on last year, when she withdrew from the season-opening Grand Slam event with an ankle problem.
In the second set, she was warned for making an "audible obscenity" in the ninth game, screaming at herself behind the baseline and losing the game to give back a service break.
Serena jumped with glee when Loit netted a forehand on the third match point. She blew kisses to the crowd and then took a big sigh of relief.
Bad match
"I don't remember that," she said, when asked about the code violation. "I definitely regret the way I played today. I just had a bad day -- it's been a while since I had a bad match, I usually play well. It was one of those days."
Kim Clijsters, seeded fourth, opened with a 6-2, 6-1 win over American Samantha Reeves.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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