PARIS (AP) – Venus Williams sparkled from the diamond choker around her neck to the two bejeweled blue sweatbands around her left ankle. If only her tennis had shone so brightly.

Williams’ game looked leaden in the first and last sets of a 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 third-round loss at the French Open on Friday to 15-year-old Bulgarian Sesil Karatantcheva on a day when top-seeded Lindsay Davenport survived her third straight three-set thriller.

“I’m pretty amazed I’m still here, given how I feel I’ve been playing,” Davenport said after her 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory over unseeded Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano. “It gives me a laugh.”

Williams, nine years older than Karatantcheva, surely wasn’t laughing. Morose and curt afterward, she said she’d never seen or heard of Karatantcheva before this match.

“I kind of beat myself,” said Williams, who hasn’t won a major title since 2001 and did herself no favors in this match with 52 unforced errors, including seven double faults, against just nine winners. Her mother and coach, Oracene, sat in the stands shaking her head and rolling her hand, as if trying to signal her daughter to get more topspin on the ball.

On a steamy day at Roland Garros, heralded 18-year-olds Rafael Nadal of Spain and Richard Gasquet of France played their first Grand Slam match against each other. It turned out to be more historic than artistic as Nadal cruised to a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory to run his winning streak to 20 matches and stay on a path toward a semifinal clash with No. 1 Roger Federer, a 7-6 (9), 7-5, 6-2 winner over Fernando Gonzalez.

Karatantcheva, ranked No. 98, didn’t dispute Williams’ assessment of the match.

“I don’t think it’s unfair,” said Karatantcheva, who has split her time training in Bulgaria and the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida since 2003. “I definitely don’t think that she played 100 percent of her game. I definitely don’t think that it was the Venus Williams I watched on TV and that I’ve seen when I started out.”

Whether it was Karatantcheva’s relentless chases for shots, her steadier play or her precocious poise, she scored by far the biggest victory of her career. The French junior champion last year, she lost in the first round of the Australian Open this year and the U.S. Open last year. Now she’s into the fourth round here.

“Three years ago I really was a kid that was just begging Nick to come watch me,” she said. “Today I hope that everybody who helped me back then and who still help me are proud of me and what I’ve done.”

She said that when she watched Williams during her peak years – two Wimbledon and two U.S. Open titles in 2000 and 2001 – she was awed by the American.

“I was amazed,” Karatantcheva said. “She would just have unbelievable serves. After I watched her play, I would be like, ‘I want to hit the ball like Venus.”‘

Five inches shorter than the 6-foot-1 Williams, Karatantcheva found it wasn’t so easy to emulate her. Instead, she developed her own style, closer perhaps to the finesse shown by her first tennis heroine, Gabriela Sabatini. What Karatantcheva also admired about Sabatini was her personality, her smile.

“It seemed like no matter winning or losing, she always had fun on the court,” said Karatantcheva, who comes from a family of athletes – her mother a national volleyball player in Bulgaria, her father and uncles on the national rowing team.

Karatantcheva came out expecting to see Williams smack winners and aces, forehands down the lines, “backhands that I probably won’t even see.” What she saw, though, were shots that flew long, wide and sometimes into the stands.

“From the first point,” Karatantcheva said, she could see Williams was off her game.

Karatantcheva sank to her knees, pressed her head and arms to the court, then leapt up waving to the crowd in all directions after her shocking win. Asked if she could bring herself down to earth for her next match, she said she wasn’t worried about that.

“Mostly because I’m scared, that’s what is bringing me down (to earth),” she said. “That is kind of keeping me under pressure. I’m just trying to control myself right now.”

What else would she do if she didn’t have to control herself?

“Maybe jumping around, going to get some ice cream,” she said.

Davenport, the last seeded American in the tournament, will play in the fourth round against two-time French runner-up Kim Clijsters, who beat No. 20-seeded Daniela Hantuchova 6-4, 6-2.

Clijsters has beaten Davenport in their past six meetings.

“Not the record you want going into a match with someone,” Davenport said. “I have a tough time playing her on my favorite surface, let alone my least favorite, clay.”

Clay is Nadal’s favorite surface and he has five tour victories on it so far this year. Against Gasquet, who will no doubt be his rival for many years to come, Nadal sprinted out for the coin toss and bounced up and down like a boxer while Gasquet stood impassively on the other side of the net. When they went to the baseline to warm up, Nadal ran while Gasquet walked – a harbinger of the energy they would show in the match.

Nadal proceeded to break Gasquet’s opening service game, and that was all the edge he needed to take the set. Similarly, Nadal broke Gasquet’s first service games in each of the next two sets to keep him under pressure.

“That’s important,” Nadal said, “to be calm.”

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