Venus Williams advances to French Open third round

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PARIS (AP) — When the ball rebounded off the net back to Venus Williams, she tried hitting it twice in a row. Usually once was enough.

A persistent Williams advanced Wednesday to the third round of the French Open by beating Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-2, 6-4.

Top-ranked Roger Federer endured one tense set and two rain delays before eliminating Alejandro Falla 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4.

Williams lost one point when she punched a volley into the top of the net, sending the ball back onto her racket. She also whiffed on a forehand and was often bested in long rallies.

But serves at up to 125 mph kept her in control, and she was never broken.

“On the bigger points, especially on my serve, I thought I played those really well,” Williams said. “I think that was key.”

Williams improved to 14-2 on clay in 2010. She’s seeded second behind her younger sister Serena, who scouted while sitting next to their father. The sisters could meet in the final.

Federer lost serve just once against Falla, at 5-all in the opening set, but broke back and hit four winners in the tiebreaker. From there only rain could slow Federer — the match was stopped for 15 minutes in the second set and for an hour in the third.

Federer, who completed a career Grand Slam when he won at Roland Garros last year, is seeking his 17th major title.

No. 5-seeded Robin Soderling won 20 of the first 22 points and went on to beat unseeded American Taylor Dent 6-0, 6-1, 6-1. Soderling, who upset Rafael Nadal last year and then lost to Federer in the final, has lost seven games through two matches.

Other men’s winners included No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 10 Marin Cilic and No. 11 Mikhail Youzhny before rain interrupted the day’s play for a second time.

In other women’s play, No. 26 Dominika Cibulkova rallied past American Varvara Lepchenko 4-6, 6-2, 6-0. Cibulkova, a semifinalist last year, faces Williams next.

“I’ll continue to try to execute my game and not worry really a ton about what my opponent is doing,” Williams said.

Two-time semifinalist Nadia Petrova, seeded 19th, beat Agnes Szavay 6-1, 6-2.

For the day’s opening match on center court, Williams again wore her lacy corset despite a brisk change in the weather, with mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 60s. At her postmatch news conference, there were seven questions about her outfit.

“Lace has never been done before in tennis, and I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time,” she said. “The illusion of just having bare skin is definitely for me a lot more beautiful.”

Williams sent her flounce flying when she served. She went to deuce six times in her first service game before holding, then pulled away to take the set.

In the second set, both players held until the seventh game. Williams drew Parra Santonja into a moonball rally, then sprinted forward to slam a winner. That gave Williams a 4-3 lead, and she served out the victory, her 28th in 32 matches this year.

In 13 previous French Open appearances, Williams reached the semifinals only once — in 2002, when she lost to Serena in the final. But at 29 she’s enjoying a career resurgence, and her record this year is the best on the women’s tour.

Dent, a 12th-year pro, won at Roland Garros for the first time in the opening round, but against Soderling his serve deserted him. The American double-faulted eight times and won only 11 points on his first serve.

“That was fun, huh?” Dent said. “I’d be a fool to say that I felt like I was in it at any stage. It would be tough for me to beat the 12-and-under French champion playing that way.”

Soderling remained on course for a Roland Garros rematch against Federer in the quarterfinals.

“I’m feeling good,” Soderling said. “I won two matches pretty easy in straight sets, and I didn’t have to run for many hours on court so far, so I feel fresh.”

Tsonga, France’s best title hope, defeated fellow Frenchman Josselin Ouanna 6-0, 6-1, 6-4. Cilic swept Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2, and Youzhny rallied past Lukas Lacko 6-7 (8), 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.

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