May 30, 2007 / 2:10 PM / 12 years ago

Venus through despite late stutter

Venus Williams returns the ball to compatriot Ashley Harkleroad during their match in the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris May 30, 2007. REUTERS/ Regis Duvignau

PARIS (Reuters) - Venus Williams unleashed some impressive firepower but made heavy weather of finishing off Ashley Harkleroad in the French Open second round on Wednesday.

The 26th seed clocked a first serve of 206kph (128mph) on her way to a 6-1 7-6 victory, although her serving prowess was nearly undermined by a second-set collapse.

Leading 6-1 5-1 against her 22-year-old opponent, five-times grand slam champion Williams suddenly lost concentration and needed to fend off five set points before clinching victory.

“I lost a little bit because I saw the 206. I was so excited because I broke my record. I just lost a bit of focus there,” the 26-year-old Williams told reporters.

The serve in question was just slower than the 209 km/h (130mph) delivery of Dutchwoman Brenda Schultz-McCarthy last year, although in such damp, cool conditions it spoke volumes for the way she was striking the ball in the early part of the match.

What was less encouraging for Williams, runner-up here in 2003, was the way her game became plagued with errors, almost allowing Harkleroad an unexpected route back into the match.

She found herself 6-3 down in the tiebreak, then 7-6 and 8-7 before finally sealing a probable third round meeting with fourth seed Jelena Jankovic when Harkleroad swatted a forehand into the net after one hour 48 minutes.

“I just felt like I had the match and I was playing loose shots and I really should have closed it out, because, you know, she was competing well,” added Williams.

“I feel good. I feel good on the clay. I feel like I can get to almost any ball. When I need to, I can raise my game.”

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