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Venus, Roddick and Martina impress

Venus opens the defense of her Olympic title with a quickfire victory
• Olympics 2004: Special report 

ATHENS, Greece -- Defending champion Venus Williams swept past Melinda Czink of Hungary in 57 minutes to open the Olympic tennis tournament on Sunday.

Andy Roddick made it an American double when got the men's show on the road by beating Brazil's Flavio Saretta 6-3 7-6 also in Athens.

And in the doubles, 47-year-old Martina Navratilova paired with Lisa Raymond for a first round victory.

Williams, who had not played since spraining her wrist in Los Angeles three weeks ago, won 6-1 6-2 against the Hungarian left-hander who is ranked 103 in the world.

Venus has slipped to 12th since winning the US Open and Wimbledon titles in succession in 2000 and 2001 and missing the latter half of 2003 with an abdominal injury.

The American, who lost concentration in the fourth game to allow Czink to reduce the score, served out the first set in 25 minutes.

She dropped the third and seventh games before taking the second set in 32 minutes and then celebrated as if she had won Wimbledon.

"I was just so excited," she said. "You don't always get to enjoy your match."

There was little of the Olympic spirit about Roddick as he unleashed his fearsome serve on Saretta.

He never got close to threatening his own record of 153 miles per hour (246.2km/h) but the deliveries he did pound down left many fans courtside wincing.

Certainly Saretta could not handle the heat from Roddick's racket and, despite a creditable performance, the Brazilian never seemed to be able to threaten the young American's chances to move on to the next round.

Still Roddick insisted that for him it wasn't the usual opening round: "I was a little more nervous than I would have been for a normal first round match," Roddick said. "But I am having a blast."

One of Roddick's main rivals, Tim Henman of Britain, fared less well as the fourth seed lost 6-3 6-3 to Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic.

Martina fever

The applause was louder when Martina Navratilova walked on the court than when she walked off.

Despite her dominant first-round 6-0, 6-2 win with Lisa Raymond over wild-card doubles entries Yulia Beygelzimer and Tetyana Perebiynis of Ukraine, it was Navratilova's first appearance on the Olympics center court that spurred a standing ovation to greet her.

"We got the biggest applause when we came on court," acknowledged the tennis legend, who is competing in her first Olympics.

An old hand at tennis on a farewell tour before retiring for good at the end of the year, Navratilova was still not completely exempt from first-time jitters.

"On my first serve of the match, I thought: 'OK, this is your first Olympic toss.' And it was a good one, and a good serve, and that was all the jitters I had," said Navratilova, who lingered on court for a few minutes to sign autographs on everything from tickets to a Greek flag.

Navratilova quit in 1994 then returned as a doubles player in 2000. But her comeback has been far from simply symbolic.

In 2003 she won the mixed doubles titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, becoming the oldest player in history to win a Grand Slam title.

This season, the former-Czechoslovakian returned to Grand Slam singles play for the first time in a decade, in a bid to enhance her game ahead of Athens, and became the oldest woman in 12 years to win a singles match at Wimbledon before getting knocked out in the second.

"I'd love to go see some other competitions," said the American, who has madly been collecting pins. "Softball, basketball ... and gymnastics. All these little people tumbling around," she said.

"It's been great. All the opening ceremonies I've watched since 1964. It was fun to be a part of it."

Poor crowds

Tennis, recalled to the Games in 1988, might claim to be a fully-established Olympic sport but the dire stories of more than half the tickets going unsold appeared to be confirmed, at least on the first day.

But US Open champion Roddick was unconcerned.

"People see tennis a lot. It was perhaps a choice between tennis and swimming but I wasn't too concerned, I was just concentrating on wining the match," he said.

Williams, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet world No 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne in the quarterfinals.

Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati and Kim Clijsters all withdrew from the Olympic tournament with injuries.

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