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Venus' outfit all the talk of Day 1 at French Open

Photo by Laurent Rebours

Photo by Laurent Rebours

PARIS (AP) -- Venus Williams' long legs sent her to the net in only a few strides. Then she scrambled back to the baseline to chase down a lob, which she whacked as she spun around. Finally her opponent dumped a weary shot in the net.

Matches on clay can be a battle of attrition, and in the first round of the French Open, Williams seemed ready for the fight. Looking sure-footed on the surface that has vexed her more than any other, Williams defeated Patty Schnyder 6-3, 6-3 Sunday.

Williams improved to 13-2 this year on clay, raising speculation she has a shot to win her first Roland Garros title on her 14th try. But she balked at the notion she has changed her game on slow, slippery clay.

"Um, change?" she said. "I mean, I'm always working on my game, my philosophy and always trying to understand everything a little better. I think ultimately I've just been playing a little bit more consistent. At the end of the day, whatever it is, you just got to win the point and execute. I've been doing that I think pretty good."

Williams moved into the second round along with defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, while 2009 quarterfinalist Victoria Azarenka showed how easy it is to stumble on clay, winning only three games before she departed.

Advancing on the men's side was No. 5-seeded Robin Soderling, hoping to mount another run at Roland Garros after upsetting four-time champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round last year.

Among those scheduled to play their opening matches Monday were defending champion Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Serena Williams.

While Serena is ranked No. 1, her older sister has the best record on the women's tour at 27-4. Last week Venus climbed for the first time since 2003 to second in the rankings.

Serena and Venus were also 1-2 that year.

"It feels good to be moving up the ranks," Venus said. "Everybody wants to be No. 1, especially me, because I'm closer than most of the other players on the tour."

The sisters could meet in the June 5 final, but that's a long way off, and Venus has reached the Roland Garros semifinals only once -- eight years ago, when she lost to her sister in the final.

Clay robs Venus' big strokes of power, and she had only two aces against Schnyder. Still, she slammed 27 winners and made the most of her intimidating wingspan, charging forward to win 12 of 14 points at the net.

There were cheers when Williams closed out the victory, and whistles and catcalls at the outset, when she removed her warmups to reveal a lacy black "Can-Can" corset with spaghetti straps and red trim. It's similar to an outfit she debuted at Key Biscayne in March.

"The outfit is all about illusion," she said. "That has been a lot of my motif this year, illusion, and it's about kind of having that illusion of wearing lace and not having anything take away under it. These days I have a lot of fun with my designs."

Williams reached the final in a red corset at Key Biscayne. Enjoying a career resurgence at 29, she likes her chances at Roland Garros.

"I always -- goes without saying -- believe I can win," she said.

Kuznetsova professed faith in her chances despite dropping the first three games. She then swept nine games in a row and beat Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 6-1.

"Definitely I was a little bit nervous," Kuznetsova said. "It was rough start for me."

Two seeded women were eliminated. Azarenka lost to Gisela Dulko 6-1, 6-2, and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez was beaten by Akgul Amanmuradova 6-2, 6-4.

The only seeded loser on the men's side was No. 23 Ernests Gulbis. Trailing in the third set of his match against Julien Benneteau, Gulbis retired with a right thigh injury and will undergo further examination.