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Sharapova, Clijsters roll; Venus falls at Wimbledon

Former champion Maria Sharapova and popular Belgian star Kim Clijsters eased into the second round, while five- time winner Venus Williams suffered a first-round loss at Wimbledon for the first time in 15 years on Monday.

The world No. 1 Sharapova won her eighth straight Grand Slam match by handling Russian-born Aussie Anastasia Rodionova 6-2, 6-3 on the famed Centre Court at the All England Club.

Sharapova is trying to become the first woman to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year since Serena Williams turned the trick 10 years ago. Sharapova captured her first-ever French Open title three weeks ago to become the 10th woman in tennis history to secure the career Grand Slam.

The 25-year-old Sharapova captured her lone Wimbledon championship as a 17- year-old in 2004 and was last year's runner-up here to powerful Czech lefthander Petra Kvitova. The Russian star has appeared in three of the last four major finals (1-2).

Up next for Sharapova will be Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, who reached the Wimbledon semifinals two years ago and the quarterfinals here last year. Pironkova overcame Serbian Vesna Dolonc 5-7, 6-0, 7-5 on Monday.

The unseeded Clijsters, meanwhile, dismissed 18th-seeded fellow former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 6-4 in 81 minutes. The Serbian Jankovic typically struggles on grass and has never reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

The oft-injured Clijsters, who announced she will retire from tennis for a second time following this year's U.S. Open, is playing Wimbledon for the last time. She's never reached the final here and is performing at the All England Club for only the second time in the last six years.

Clijsters' second-round opponent will be Czech doubles specialist Andrea Hlavackova.

Meanwhile, the former No. 1 Venus succumbed to Russian Elena Vesnina 6-1, 6-3 in 1 hour, 15 minutes on Court 2. Vesnina cruised past a listless Venus in seven games in the first set and got the break she needed for a 4-2 lead in the second and never looked back.

The 32-year-old Venus titled here in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008 and is also a three-time Wimbledon runner-up. She's now 71-11 at tennis' most prestigious event and hadn't lost in the first round here since making her Wimbledon debut back in 1997.

"Give credit to her, she played very well," Venus said of the 25-year-old Vesnina, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2009.

Venus has played sparingly over the last several months after being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an incurable autoimmune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain.

"I feel like I'm a great player," Venus said. "I am a great player. Unfortunately I have to deal with circumstances that people don't have to deal with normally in a sport, but I can't be discouraged by that. I'm up for challenges. I have great tennis in me. I just need the opportunity."

Third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska earned a 6-3, 6-3 decision over Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova, while Sam Stosur, the fifth seed and reigning U.S. Open champion, eased past Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-3, and eighth-seeded rising German Angelique Kerber dismissed Czech Lucie Hradecka 6-4, 6-1. The left-handed Kerber was a grass-court finalist in Eastbourne last week.

Radwanska will meet Vesnina in the round of 64.

Eleventh-seeded former French Open champ Li Na of China thumped Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-1 and 15th-seeded German Sabine Lisicki, a semifinalist last year at the All England Club, cruised to a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Croatia's Petra Martic.

Italy's Camila Giorgi provided the first upset of the tournament with a 6-4, 6-3 win over 16th-seeded countrymate Flavia Pennetta, while 17th-seeded Russian glamour girl Maria Kirilenko avoided an upset by leveling Romanian Alexandra Cadantu 6-3, 6-1.

American Jamie Hampton surprised 27th-seeded Slovak Daniela Hantuchova 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).

In other action involving seeds, No. 20 Russian Nadia Petrova pasted Italian Maria Elena Camerin 6-0, 6-2; No. 23 Czech Petra Cetkovska drubbed American Vania King 6-4, 6-2; France's Stephanie Foretz Gacon knocked out No. 29 Romanian Monica Niculescu 6-4, 3-6, 6-3; and No. 30 Chinese Peng Shuai snuck past Pole Sandra Zaniewska 6-2, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3.

Several other women reached the second round, including American Sloane Stephens, who whipped Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-2.

Darkness forced a pair of matches to be suspended as 12th-seeded 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva of Russia was tied with German Mona Barthel 2-6, 7-6 (7-3) and 28th-seeded American Christina McHale was all even with Brit Johanna Konta 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 7-7 when play was called.

The first round is scheduled to conclude here on Tuesday, including matches for second-seeded former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, a fourth-seeded Kvitova, and Serena Williams. The Aussie Open winner Azarenka will battle American Irina Falconi, while the reigning Wimbledon champion Kvitova will meet Uzbekistan's Akgul Amanmuradova, and a sixth-seeded Serena will be opposed by Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

The 13-time Grand Slam champion Serena was last year's U.S. Open runner-up, owns four Wimbledon titles, and is a two-time Wimbledon runner-up.

Also seeing action on Tuesday will be seventh-seeded former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, ninth-seeded 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli, and 10th-seeded French Open runner-up Sara Errani.