- Australian Open 2003 - Serena has opening-round jitters
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Friday, July 18
Serena has opening-round jitters

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serena Williams knew how close she came to being on the losing end of a first-round shocker at the Australian Open.

Who is Emilie Loit?
Age: 23
WTA Tour singles titles: 0
Rank: 56
Best performance at a Grand Slam: Fourth round during Australian Open debut in 1999

"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 tiebreaker and finally beat 56th-ranked Emilie Loit of France 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 on Tuesday.

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.

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. 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.

After missing the last Australian Open, Serena recovered to defeat older sister Venus in the finals of the next three majors.

Serena's vow to go 12 months unbeaten appeared in danger right away.

Kim Clijsters
Kim Clijsters showed no rust in her 6-2, 6-1 victory.

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.

"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."

The Australian Open has been troublesome in the past for both Williams sisters. Serena never has advanced past the quarterfinals and Venus was a semifinalist once, in 2001.

Holding all four Grand Slam titles at once last was accomplished by Steffi Graf, who added the 1994 Australian title to her victories in the other majors in 1993.

Graf also is one of only three women with a true Grand Slam. She did that in 1988, following Maureen Connolly in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970.

A day earlier, Jennifer Capriati became the first women's Australian Open defending champion to lose in the first round in the Open era. Capriati, the third-seeded woman, lost 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 to 90th-ranked Marlene Weingartner of Germany.

Loit, 23, has never won a singles title on the WTA Tour. Her best showing came at the 1999 Australian Open, when she beat ninth-seeded Conchita Martinez to advance to the fourth round.

"It was definitely a big sigh," Williams said after Loit netted an inside-out forehand passing shot on the third match point. "I have to take a breath right now.''

Loit, who thought her left-handed shots might bother Williams, added: "I was feeling so good on the court, I thought anything could happen."

Loit said the stress she was feeling before the match, which caused a largely sleepless night, changed to irritation over what she perceived as a sneer by Williams when Loit won the toss and chose to receive.

"Later on in the match, when I saw her getting irritated and losing it a bit, I really enjoyed that," Loit said. "In the end, she was very pleasant. She said the usual kind of things like 'good match.' "

Williams won her first game, but then quickly fell behind with her wild shots.

She stared into the stands with a look on her face that said "Help!" and at one point started to throw down her racket, but caught herself. She received a warning in the second set for an audible obscenity.

Williams faced her biggest jam in the second set when Loit took a 6-5 lead. Williams evened the set, then took a 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker.

Loit rebounded to 5-4 thanks to two Williams errors and a backhand winner down the line. Williams reached match point with an ace, followed with a double fault, but won the set when Loit hit a forehand long.

Williams fell behind a break of serve at 3-2 in the third set.

She broke right back to tie it and, after squandering two match points at 5-4, Williams went on to win.

Earlier in the day, Kim Clijsters, who beat both Williams sisters two months ago, surged into the second round with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over American Samantha Reeves.

Clijsters needed just 62 minutes to win with her heavy groundstrokes, ending when Reeves hit a serve return into the net.

In other women's matches, No. 10 Chanda Rubin overcame Hungarian Melinda Czink 6-4, 7-5; Mary Pierce, winner of the 1995 Australian Open and 2000 French, beat Austria's Patricia Wartusch 6-1, 6-4, and American Amy Frazier needed only 43 minutes to oust Spain's Conchita Martinez Granados.

No. 8 Anastasia Myskina beat Slovakia's Eva Fislova 7-5, 6-3, No. 11 Magdalena Maleeva beat France's Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-1, No. 14 Anna Pistolesi beat American Meilen Tu 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, No. 16 Nathalie Dechy beat American Sarah Taylor 6-2, 6-3, No. 18 Eleni Daniilidou beat American Marissa Irvin 7-6 (6), 6-3, and No. 19 Amanda Coetzer beat Austrian Barbara Schett 6-4, 6-3.

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Serena Williams survived a second-set tiebreaker and finally prevailed 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 over 56th-ranked Emilie Loit.
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Serena Williams joins ESPN's Mary Joe Fernandez after her narrow victory over Emilie Loit.
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