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Williams a winner in debut in state

Briefly upstaged by a rat, Venus Williams kept cool and won her home-state debut Thursday in the Lipton Championships.

Williams, 16, led 6-1, 0-1 when fans began shrieking because of a rodent scurrying through the stands.

It took 15 minutes to capture the rat, and it took Williams longer to regain momentum before beating Ginger Helgeson Nielsen 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

"The rat was very odd," Williams said. "I didn't know what was going on. I thought it was just a mouse."

No seeds were in action on the first day of the 11-day, $4.45-million event. That left center stage to the rat and Williams, who moved to Florida before turning pro at age 14.

Williams' father is nursing her development, and the tournament is just the 11th of her career. In the second round she faces Saddlebrook's Jennifer Capriati.

Anna Kournikova, 15, who says she's rusty because of WTA limitations on her tournament schedule, nonetheless was a first-round winner.

Kournikova beat Nana Miyagi 6-2, 6-0. The tournament is one of only 10 the Russian can enter between her 15th and 16th birthday because of a WTA rule restricting young players.

"For me it's not that good," Kournikova. "I don't know what better teenage life you could get than traveling the world, looking around, meeting different people, doing what I love to do."

The rule doesn't affect 16-year-old Martina Hingis, because she turned pro before it took effect in January 1995.

Kournikova's second-round opponent at Lipton is 12th seed Amanda Coetzer.

Patricia Hy-Bolais scored an easy victory, and her reward is a match with Hingis today.

Andrian Voinea plays top-ranked Pete Sampras of Tampa in the second round. Voinea trailed Mariano Zabaleta 2-1 in a final-set tiebreaker when Zabaleta was defaulted for slamming a ball in anger that hit a linesman in the stomach.

ST. PETERSBURG OPEN: Michael Stich overcame an aching shoulder to rally in both sets and beat Omar Camporese 6-4, 6-4 in the second round in Russia.

In other second-round matches, Olivier Delaitre upset No. 4 seed Daniel Vacek 6-3, 7-6, 7-1. No. 5 Thomas Johansson defeated Stephane Simian 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, and No. 8 Kenneth Carlsen downed Nuno Marques 6-4, 6-4.

TANNER FREED: Former star Roscoe Tanner was released from the Somerset County (N.J.) jail, his lawyer said.

Tanner was headed to Tennessee, where he was wanted on charges that he bounced a check for more than $10,000, lawyer Fred Sikora said.

Tanner, from Rising Fawn, Ga., was jailed last week for failing to abide by an agreement he signed two years ago.

Tanner will have to pay former Bernards Township resident Constance Romano $8,000 cash for child support to stay out of jail, a Superior Court judge ordered. Tanner then must pay $1,000 a month.

Sikora said he will contest paternity and the amount of the child support in hearings.

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