Lepchenko gives US early win at French Open

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PARIS (AP) — Varvara Lepchenko waited a while between Grand Slam match wins. Then again, she knows a thing or two about a lengthy journey.

Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, but now living in Allentown, Pa., and representing the United States, the 127th-ranked Lepchenko ended her seven-match losing streak at tennis' major championships by beating Christina McHale of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the French Open on Sunday.

Lepchenko moved with her father and sister to Miami a decade ago. She was granted political asylum so she could leave Uzbekistan, an ex-Soviet Central Asian nation to the north of Afghanistan that the U.S. government has pressed to improve its human rights record. Lepchenko's mother didn't join the rest of the family until four years later.

After playing in a lower-tier tournament in Pennsylvania in 2003, Lepchenko decided to move from Miami to Allentown, where she now lives with her parents.

"I love that it has four seasons," she said. "And sometimes, when you travel to big cities to play tennis, you want to come back to a small town."

The 24-year-old Lepchenko said she's on track to get her U.S. citizenship next year, and she hopes to be a part of the country's Fed Cup team one day.

Lepchenko's second-round opponent at the French Open will be No. 26 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, who was a semifinalist in 2009.

McHale earned a wild card into the French Open by winning a U.S. Tennis Association mini-tournament in Florida last month. The winner of the men's wild card in that playoff, Ryan Sweeting of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also lost Sunday. He was beaten by Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 (4).

The other American man in action Sunday, qualifier Michael Yani of Durham, N.C., was tied 8-8 in the fifth set with Lukas Lacko of Slovakia when their match was suspended by darkness.


SODERLING RETURNS: Robin Soderling never had won so much as a third-round match at any Grand Slam tournament before the 2009 French Open.

Oh, how things changed: Not only did he get past the third round at Roland Garros, he also got past the fourth round — upsetting Rafael Nadal to end the Spaniard's record 31-match French Open winning streak — and made it all the way to the final, before losing to Roger Federer.

Soderling then went on to reach Wimbledon's fourth round, and the U.S. Open quarterfinals. Now he's back at the French Open, where he handily beat French wild card Laurent Recouderc 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 Sunday.

Does what happened a year ago propel him these days?

"I don't think about it too much," the fifth-seeded Swede said. "That was all last year. I have to start over again. Focus on every match. But of course it's always nice to come back to a place where you did well last year. Gives you good feelings."


SOUTH AFRICAN VICTORY: Chanelle Scheepers went through qualifying merely to make it into the French Open, and now she's the first South African woman to win a main-draw match at Roland Garros since 2001.

The 131st-ranked Scheepers is also the first woman from her country in more than six years to win a match at any major tennis championship. She beat France's Mathilde Johansson 6-2, 6-4.

Amanda Coetzer reached the Australian Open's second round in 2004, while Coetzer and Joannette Kruger won matches at the French Open nine years ago.

The 26-year-old Scheepers next meets Gisela Dulko of Argentina, who upset 10th-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-1, 6-2. Azarenka declined to speak to the media after the loss.

Dulko, meanwhile, sent her brother to scout the Scheepers-Johansson match.

"He's going to give me feedback," Dulko said. "I'll take time to analyze (Scheeper's) game."


AP Sports Writer Sam Petrequin contributed to this report.