Rafael Nadal, the French Open champion, struggled to reach the second round of the United States Open but promised that his performances could, and would, improve.

The Spaniard's previous two visits here ended in second-round defeats and he had to dig deep yesterday to defeat Scoville Jenkins, of America, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 in the last 64.

"I have total confidence that I am going to play well on Saturday [in the third round]," Nadal said. "I always play well when the important match arrives. I hope that this time is not the exception."

In strong, swirling winds on Arthur Ashe Court, Nadal grappled with the aggressive game of Jenkins and needed almost 21/2 hours to qualify for the last 32.

"I did not play very well," Nadal said. "He played very aggressively and has a good future and it was not easy for me.

"But the important thing is that I am in the third round and on Saturday I have a good opportunity to improve.

"The nerves of the first two rounds have already happened and now everything will be different."

Nadal has won nine titles in 2005, including his first grand slam title, at the French Open in June.

Seventh seed Justine Henin-Hardenne reached the third round of the women's singles, with a below par 6-3, 6-4 win over Spain's Maria Sanchez Lorenzo.

The French Open champion lost her opening service game before taking control against the world No 99 with some trademark backhand flourishes.

Henin-Hardenne seemed to be cruising when she led 4-1 in the second set but allowed Sanchez Lorenzo back into the match with numerous unforced errors before eventually finishing her off.

"I had little ups and downs but a lot of good things," the Belgian said. "I have to be more focused in my next match."

The third-round opponent for the 2003 champion will be Cho Yoon-jeong, of South Korea, who upset Argentine 27th seed Gisela Dulko 6-4, 6-3.

Serbia and Montenegro's Jelena Jankovic, Henin-Hardenne's possible fourthround opponent, also advanced with a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of lanky 15-yearold American Alexa Glatch.

Second seed Lindsay Davenport seeks her place in the last 32 when she faces Pauline Parmentier, of France.

An intriguing clash of styles is in store on Arthur Ashe Court later when 35-year-old American Andre Agassi pits his outstanding returns against the formidable serve of lofty Croatian Ivo Karlovic.

French third seed Amelie Mauresmo will also need to be on her mettle against Bulgarian teenager Sesil Karatantcheva.