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Nadal scales milestone, Safina sails

THE modern day King of Clay eclipsed another mark yesterday, this time breaking the French Open men's record for consecutive wins.

Top-seeded Rafael Nadal looked his usual dominant self in the first round, beating Marcos Daniel of Brazil 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 for his 29th straight win on the red clay at Roland Garros.

The win bettered the mark held by Bjorn Borg, who won 28 straight from 1978-81. Nadal also equaled the overall tournament record, matching the 29 straight that Chris Evert won between 1974-75 and 1979-81. Evert did not play at the French Open from 1976-78.

Nadal was broken three times by Daniel, but the top-seeded Spaniard remained perfect in Paris as he tries to become the first player to win five straight titles at Roland Garros.

"You always start with some nerves," Nadal said before walking off center court. "I'm very happy with the win and to advance to the second round."

Second seed Roger Federer erased miserable memories by gliding into the second round with a clinical 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Spaniard Alberto Martin.

The last time Federer had stepped on center court, he was on the receiving end of a 1-6, 3-6, 0-6 mauling by his nemesis Nadal in the final 12 months ago.

The Swiss, who has been left holding the runner-up tray in Paris for the past three years, will next face either Santiago Ventura of Spain or Argentine grinder Jose Acasuso.

Dinara Safina, the top-seeded player in the women's draw, and No. 3 Venus Williams also advanced. Safina routed Anne Keothavong of Britain 6-0, 6-0 by spraying shots to all parts of the court.

"I was just playing point by point, game by game, and it ended up like this," said Safina, half of the only brother-sister combination alongside Marat Safin to have served as the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

Williams, a seven-time grand slam champion, survived a sudden second-set slump to beat American compatriot Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 4-6, 6-2. She won the match's first five games, while Mattek asked for a medical timeout during the first set so a trainer could look at her right wrist.

Williams has never won the French Open, but she did reach the final in 2002 when she lost to little sister Serena.

Maria Sharapova's bandaged right shoulder held up despite a shaky start, sending her into the second round with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus.

The unseeded Russian made her season debut in singles this month in Poland, reaching the quarterfinals in her first tournament since taking time off because of a shoulder injury.

The three-time major champion needs only to win the French Open to complete a career grand slam.

On the men's side, 10th-seeded Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, No. 23 Robin Soderling of Sweden and No. 30 Victor Hanescu of Romania advanced.

Keothavong had a couple of chances against Safina on center court, but she wasted two break points in the third game of the first set, and led 40-0 in the fourth game of the second but couldn't hold on.

Victoria Azarenka and Ana Ivanovic won 6-0, 6-0 at the French Open last year, and Serena did it in 2003.

Asia enjoyed a successful day at the expense of French hopes. Wimbledon semifinalist and 15th seed Zheng Jie of China beat Stephanie Cohen-Aloro 6-1, 6-3 and Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn edged Camille Pin 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.


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