1998 – 1999, Australian Open

  Australian Open, Melbourne
 January 19 – February 1, 1998; 128 Draw – $4,740,500 (AUS); Surface: Hard

It was a reminiscence of Roland Garros 1990 when 30-year-old Andres Gomez, known for many years as one of the best players, won unexpectedly a major title. Eight years later in Melbourne, Petr Korda [7] was 30-year-old as well, he had been playing tennis of his life since Autumn 1997, and in the final stunned a big favorite Marcelo Rios. The gifted Chilean a few months later became the No. 1 in the world, and up to this day he’s been the only player who was at the top of the tennis pyramid not having a title under his belt in the end of career. The future (1999) champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov withdrew as well as a ’92 semifinalist Richard Krajicek and two-time former champion (1992-93) Jim Courier. The defending champion Pete Sampras came to Melbourne after two months without a training (left ankle injury).
First round: Steve Wilstein, Phil Brown

In the opening match on Center Court, 16-year-old Australian Lleyton Hewitt couldn’t follow up his success in Adelaide earlier this month, when he beat Andre Agassi en route to becoming the vacekthird youngest male player to win a tournament in the Open era. Hewitt fought back from two sets down, but lost 6-2, 6-4, 1-6, 2-6, 6-3 to Daniel Vacek of the Czech Republic. Still, “it wasn’t like I got killed. It’s a little bit disappointing but, if you were to say three weeks ago that I was going to jump from 550 in the world to 160. So you have to look at it both ways,” said Hewitt, who actually is ranked 162 now. Among the older folks, 26-year-old Pete Sampras, the defending champion and top seed, cruised to a 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Dutchman Sjeng Schalken, serving 17 aces. Sampras said that after a calf injury in Davis Cup play last November, he is healthy and “I’m trying to break some records.” He has won 10 Grand Slam titles and is trying to pass all-time leader Roy Emerson, who has 12. Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg won 11 majors apiece. Mark Woodforde‘s foot injury may prevent the No. 1-ranked doubles team from defending its Australian Open title and seeking its 10th Grand Slam title. Woodforde hurt a tendon in his right foot during a first-round singles match and had to stop while trailing Martin Damm 6-4, 7-6(3), 3-0. He was taken to a hospital for tests.  Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge have won 46 doubles titles together, third in the Open era behind Peter Fleming-John McEnroe and Bob Hewitt-Frew McMillan, each with 57. Andre Agassi and Michael Chang wanted workouts, not scares.  They got both Tuesday in the first round of the Australian Open before asserting themselves against undistinguished opponents playing over their heads. Agassi, who shed 22 pounds (9 kg) preparing for the year’s first Grand Slam, dropped five straight games to lose the first set against Italy’s Marzio Martelli, then blew six break points in an 11-deuce game in the second game of the second set before taking over in a tiebreaker. The 1995 champion here but ranked No. 122 at the end of 1997 after taking most of the year off on an extended honeymoon, Agassi looked stronger and stronger as the match wore on. He easily closed out a 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-2, 6-2 victory over Martelli, a qualifier playing his first Australian Open and third major. The No. 3 Chang, who pulled out of a tuneup exhibition last week because of a strained stomach muscle, struggled to a 6-3, 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-3 victory over Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark. Steve Campbell of Detroit can earn a first top-100 ranking by defeating compatriot Alex O’Brien on Wednesday in the second round. “I’ve been as high as No. 105, but never broke into the top 100,” says Campbell, 27. “That’s my goal. If you’re in the top 100, you can make enough money to survive. I’ll play as much as I can this year and next year, for sure.” Campbell, ranked No. 106, beat No. 105 Justin Gimelstob 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. O’Brien beat compatriot qualifier Jan-Michael Gambill 3-6, 7-5, 6-1, 6-3.
It was a round of left-handed underdogs: Jan Siemerink, Jan Apell and Jerome Golmard. Siemerink upset Goran Ivanisevic 6-2, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-4. Ivanisevic, who faces a potential fine of up to $10,000 for refusing to attend a post-match interview, was a first-round loser in three of his last four grand slam events. Thomas Muster, also a first-round loser at the 1997 U.S. Open, said his loss “was disappointing, but it’s always like this way you play qualifiers playing well.” Muster was beaten in straight sets by Apell. Britain’s Tim Henman, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist last year and now ranked 18th, fought off two match points at 6:7 in the final set before losing 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-2, 3-6, 11-9 in 4 hours, 19 minutes to 101st-ranked Jerome Golmard of France. Henman hang in the match despite an initial trashing, he was *0:3 (0/30) down in the 2nd set, later on 2:5 (30/40). After 19 games of the final set, Golmard needed a treatment to his burned feet. After the break he played his best returns of the whole match! U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter played two astonishing points for a key break in the next-to-last game before overcoming stubborn Jeff Tarango today in the first round of the Australian Open. Rafter’s big serve and acrobatic volleying finally prevailed over Tarango’s baseline sharpshooting, 7-6(4), 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 7-5 in the night match that lasted 3 1/2 hours. Some of the most devastating shots came at 5:5 in the final set. On the first point, Rafter surprised Tarango by chasing down shots on opposite sidelines, and pressuring the American into netting a forehand. Two points later, he went ahead 0/40 by curling a forehand passing shot down the line on a dead run. That almost wasn’t enough. Tarango, ranked No. 58, got back to deuce on two errors by the No. 2 seed and a passing shot that he punctuated with a fist gesture toward Rafter that drew boos from the crowd.  But two Tarango errors gave Rafter the game, and he served out the match, ending with his 26th ace. Earlier in the final set, Tarango was given an unsportsmanlike conduct warning after holding up two fingers and shouting at the umpire: “That’s two (line calls) you owe me, and you know it.’ Karsten Braasch [203], a German journeyman, known for his ‘bad’ habits (smoking cigarettes and drinking beers) was beaten in four sets by Alberto Berasategui, then in a “battle of sexes” outplayed teenage Williams sisters: Serena 6-1, Venus 6-2.

Second round: Steve Wilstein, Phil Brown

A year after he shook up the tennis world by emerging from anonymity to depose the defending champion and surge to the final, Carlos Moya tumbled out of the Australian Open on Wednesday in the second round. Australian Richard Fromberg won an uninspired and at times ugly baseline duel against the seventh-seeded Spaniard, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-4. In three previous matches, Moya had never lost a set to Fromberg. “It’s the biggest win I’ve had in a Grand Slam tournament,” Fromberg said. “It was one of my goals this year, to beat a top-10 player.” Moya upset defending champ Boris Becker in the first round last year and became the talk of the tournament as he advanced to the final before losing to Pete Sampras. But except for that tournament, Moya has never gone past the second round of any Grand Slam event he’s played.
In other second-round matches, Morocco’s Hicham Arazi upset 15th-seeded Mark Philippoussis 1-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 9-7, and No. 11 Alex Corretja of Spain beat Germany’s David Prinosil 6-4, 6-3, 6-0. Unseeded MaliVai Washington, complaining of a flareup in his injured left knee, defaulted from his match against Spain’s Francisco Clavet. Philippoussis popped pain pills a couple of times during the match and was checked for fever by a trainer. Usually one of the biggest servers in the game, he looked sluggish in this match, failed to convert a match point at 5:4 in the fifth set and getting out-aced 21-19 by Arazi. The second-seeded Patrick Rafter reached the third round with a 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3 victory over Todd Martin, a former top 10 player who missed most of 1997 with injuries. On a day when the temperature reached 95 degrees (35 Celsius), Rafter, for the second consecutive match, needed 3 1/2 hours. This time, he also needed four match points as Martin saved the first three with a volley error by Rafter and two sizzling serve returns. Aching from a deep bruise under a big callous, Rafter said that halfway through the second set “I was hating life, I was hating the sun, I was just hating the whole situation, hating to get my butt kicked, and it was just good to get through that.” Besides the foot, he mentioned “the body, the cramps and things, and a bit of stress in my lower back. But I think that will all go in the next couple of days.” No. 3 Michael Chang, meanwhile, couldn’t pull off one of his trademark comebacks and became the highest seed to lose so far. He fell 6-4, 7-6(4), 7-6(5) to Guillaume Raoux, one of six Frenchmen to reach the third round. The latest French winners also included Nicolas Escude, who ousted French Open champion and No. 12 seed Gustavo Kuerten 5-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5; qualifier Jerome Golmard, who beat Dutchman Jan Siemerink 7-6(2), 7-5, 6-7(5), 3-6, 6-1 in his second consecutive five-setter; and Lionel Roux, who beat Sweden’s Jan Apell 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Andre Agassi yanked Albert Costa all over the court late Thursday night, pulling him from sideline to sideline until the 16th-seeded Spaniard collapsed in a heap and gasped for breath. It was Agassi the way he played when he was No. 1, deftly drilling ground-strokes on the sharpest of angles within inches of the lines, controlling the pace, the movement, the tenor of the match in a 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 victory. “It feels incredibly familiar,” Agassi said. “It feels really great. The only difference is I used to enjoy watching it from the hitting perspective. Now when I do it, I’m kind of wishing I could sit on the side and watch it, just kind of get a good clear picture of how I’m playing. It’s something I want to hold onto.” That Agassi was able to handle Costa – except for a third set that Agassi virtually tanked after an early break on a smash he lost in the lights – testified not only to his fitness but his timing after taking off most of last year and sinking as low as No. 141 in the rankings. “I’ve played pretty well before, but it’s certainly the most significant match I’ve had,” Agassi said. “It’s a big step forward.

Third round: Wire Reports

U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter probably doesn’t know who Atlas was, but he definitely knows how he felt – world weary. Australia is not just a big island, it has become a tennis-crazed island. Rafter, the first Australian to rise to a No. 2 ranking since John Newcombe did so almost 25 years ago, was bearing the full weight of the nation’s hefty expectations when he strolled onto the stadium court against Alberto Berasategui yesterday, a Spanish clay-court specialist who wasn’t carrying anything heavier than his racket bag. And the guy with the lighter load and the lesser laurels won the match, as Berasategui scored a 6-7(2), 7-6(7), 6-2, 7-6(4) victory. Rafter blew three set points in the 2nd set tie-break, 6:4 & 7:6. Berasategui was broken just once in the entire match as he served to win it at 5:4 in the 4th set. It was a scenario the local crowd viewed much more approvingly earlier in the day in a match between fifth-seeded Greg Rusedski, the Canadian who has become a Grand Slam contender since transferring his allegiance to Britain four years ago, and Australia’s Todd Woodbridge. Once the 33rd-ranked Todd Woodbridge, better known for his doubles excellence, defused Greg Rusedski’s rocket serve, the rest was elementary. He produced a 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-2 upset which, coupled with Rafter’s loss later in the program, left just one seeded player, No. 9 Marcelo Rios, in the bottom half of the men’s draw. Woodbridge’s victory was a bonus with no strings attached. Rafter’s role here was nothing less than a command performance. He was expected to win the whole event, not just the match against Berasategui, whose one Grand Slam high was a runner-up finish at Roland Garros in 1994. The 15,000 howling in the stands had already envisioned Rafter taking his place across the net from Andre Agassi in the Round of 16 in a replay of their meeting at the U.S. Open last summer, the match that convinced Rafter he could to take it to the limit in a Grand Slam. Rafter’s date with Agassi was supposed to be a mere prelude to a finale against Pete Sampras, the defending champion. But the reality was – 2 hours, 51 minutes after Rafter and Berasategui got down to business in the third round – a crowd-numbing loss. “I was very negative out there, I just wasn’t thinking straight,” Rafter said. He acknowledged that the mental burden of living up to expectations took a toll on his enthusiasm and led to gaffes like the double fault that put Berasategui up by 5:4 in the final set. “I’ve got to deal with that, that’s just life,” Rafter said of the pressures that accompanied his U.S. Open championship. “This is what we play for, I guess, to go out there and hear 14 or 15,000 people screaming for you. When you do win, it’s terrific, but when you lose, the feeling’s terrible. ” said Rafter. Resurgent Czech Petr Korda, who knocked Pete Sampras out of the U.S. Open, did three scissor kicks to celebrate his 30th birthday – “I couldn’t do 30 because I would die,” he said – after he moved ahead Friday with a 6-2, 7-6(8), 6-2 victory over American Vince Spadea [79]. Cedric Pioline, one of 10 French players to start the day, advanced with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Spain’s 11th-seeded Alex Corretja. Defending champion Pete Sampras stayed on course to capture his 11th major title as he cruised past Sweden’s Magnus Gustafsson 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. It was Sampras’ fifth win in as many meetings against Gustafsson, 31, who reached the quarterfinals of the Open in 1994 only to be beaten by Sampras in four sets. Moroccan Hicham Arazi, who bumped out big-serving, 15th-seeded Philippoussis in a five-setter in the second round, survived another long match in a 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Spain’s Francisco Clavet.

Fourth round: Phil Brown

Hicham Arazi amazed Pete Sampras. He didn’t beat him. “He was one of the quickest players I have ever played,” Sampras said. “He is up there with (Michael) Chang with foot speed.” Arazi, a left-handed Moroccan ranked No. 47 in the world, had twice rallied to win in five sets at the Australian Open, once against big-serving No. 15 seed Mark Philippoussis. But this was Sampras, who withstood a tough first set to win 7-6(9), 6-4, 6-4 and advance to the quarterfinals. “I was surprised the way he served a lot of aces, a lot of service winners,” Sampras said. “I thought I was hitting some big shots, had him on the ropes, and he came up with some huge winners. He made me work very hard.” Arazi, who at 5’9 is 4 inches shorter than his opponent, hit 16 aces to 24 for Sampras. When some of his best shots zipped past Sampras, Arazi raised both arms. When he missed, he berated himself. When the umpire called a let on an apparent Sampras ace that would have ended the first set, he blew the official a kiss. Despite playing mainly from the baseline, he suddenly charged in on his serve on some points in the tiebreaker and put away volleys. “I couldn’t believe he was recovering after the long points we were having,” Sampras said. Arazi was playing in his eighth Grand Slam event. In most, he has gone out in the first round, but in last year’s French Open he became the first Moroccan to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. In four previous matches against top-10 players, he beat Marcelo Rios and Thomas Muster and lost to Thomas Enqvist and kiefer_ao98Carlos Moya. “I need more experience against good players,” said Arazi, who squandered a set point at 8:7 in the tie-break (Sampras’ ace) after saving four set points. 20-year-old Nicolas Kiefer secured himself second Grand Slam quarterfinal in his second consecutive major (skipped US Open ’97) easily defeating Guillaume Raoux 6-3, 6-4, 7-5. Kiefer looked at the time as the potential Grand Slam champion, however, he will have to wait eight years to play his only Grand Slam semifinal… Alberto Berasategui rallied from two sets down to defeat Andre Agassi and advance to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. The 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 slug-fest overshadowed two 6-0, 6-0 blitzes by the top women – Martina Hingis’ against Yayuk Basuki and Mary Pierce’s over Henrieta Nagyova. Agassi appeared in command early in the third set when he was forcing Berasategui into desperate sprints from corner to corner in rallies long enough to start the crowd of 15,000 laughing. But Berasategui came back, and the pressure on Agassi gradually led to errors that gave Berasategui two service breaks in the third set – the 5th game was crucial – Agassi was broken serving the only double fault in the match despite he had not been broken before.  “I just kept fighting,” Berasategui said. “I had a chance and I took it. I think he got a little tired in the third set.” The Spaniard, who upset No. 2 seed Patrick Rafter in the previous round, hit 32 forehand winners against a stunned Agassi. “I definitely thought my game could get to his weaknesses, and I stepped it up and put it on him,” Agassi said. “He was down two sets, and it looked like he brought back a whole new level of racket speed.” Berasategui next meets No. 9 Marcelo Rios, the only seed left in the bottom half of the draw. Rios beat France’s Lionel Roux 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.  But France had its first quarter-finalist in five years when Nicolas Escude, a former junior star starting to find his way in the big time, beat Wimbledon semifinalist Todd Woodbridge. Escude, who climbed from the 400s to a ranking of 79th last year, erased an early lead by the Australian and won 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-2. Woodbridge led 5:2* in the 1st set.

Quarterfinals: Phil Brown, Doug Smith

Petr Korda has bitter memories of the criticism he took for pulling out of his U.S. Open quarterfinal last year in his next match after upsetting Pete Sampras. So there was extra satisfaction from beating the same opponent – Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman [4] – at the Australian Open Tuesday in their second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal meeting. Not only did he win, but he came from two sets down against a player Korda rates as “one of the fittest guys on the tour.” Korda won 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, setting up another possible meeting with Sampras. Last year, Korda extended Sampras to five sets at Wimbledon before beating him at the U.S. Open. Then the Czech left-hander became ill. Later, he maintained it was a mistake for him to even have taken the court against Bjorkman. He retired while trailing 6-7, 2-6, 0-1. Korda, seeded sixth, said he didn’t think about that during Tuesday’s match, but admitted that winning was a big mental lift. With timing problems after practicing indoors, “I started really bad. But luckily I came back and won the match in five sets because last time when we met… I had to retire and a lot of people punished me after that. Everybody said I didn’t want to fight,” Korda said. Beating Sampras was fantastic, he said, but “probably I feel much better today, because two sets to love down, and really struggling on the court, to beat Jonas, who I feel was on a roll. It’s a great effort for me to make a semifinal.” After Korda rose to No. 5 in 1992, injuries helped drag him down to No. 41 at the end of 1995. Back then, he said, “nobody would put a penny on me.”
Pete Sampras expected a few bumps in the road en route to a second consecutive Australian Open title, but Karol Kucera [20] proved to be an impassable boulder. In another shocker Down Under, Kucera pocketed Sampras’ passport to the semifinals, ousting the heavily favored top seed 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3 Tuesday in 2 hours, 29 minutes. “Reaching semifinal in Australian Open, this was the best match of my career,” Kucera said. “I play pretty well. I was cool.” Sampras, on the other hand, felt scalded by the 23-year-old Slovakian. “I just ran into a hot player,” Sampras said. “It must be easy to play me because these guys have nothing to lose, just swing away. He played great. I give him all the credit in the world. But I wasn’t at my best. It was kind of a bad day.” Kucera frequently tracked down Sampras’ best-angled serves and ground-strokes, slapping several of them back for incredible winners. “I was just running down every ball,” Kucera said. “He started very aggressive, then he started to push a little more and made mistakes. I think could be because he was a little bit nervous.” Sampras played superbly during his first four matches, reaching the quarterfinals without losing a set. He began play against Kucera losing his serve in the first, an omen for tough times to come. A wobbly serve and an erratic forehand kept Sampras in trouble throughout the match. The world’s top-ranked pro had only seven aces, 11 fewer than Kucera, and committed 28 of 46 unforced errors on the forehand side. Kucera made 21 unforced errors. “I got a little impatient out there, missed some shots,” said Sampras, 26. “No excuse. He really put a lot of pressure on me and served much better than I thought (he could).” Although he claimed not to be unduly shook, Sampras left the court so miffed by unfavorable overrules from chair umpire Lars Graff, he didn’t stop to give Graff the traditional post-match handshake. “It was a bad day for both us,” Sampras said. “I probably should have (shook Graff’s hand).” Kucera played incredible tennis since saving break points at 3:4 in the 1st set to breaking Sampras in the 5th game of the 3rd set (the Slovak led 2:1 and 3:2 with a break in that set). The American didn’t lose a service game in 11 consecutive sets prior to the quarterfinal, Kucera broke him seven times (!) and finished the contest with a nail-smash which landed on the grandstand. Alberto Berasategui, conqueror of U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter and a resurgent Andre Agassi, lost the magic from his legs and unorthodox forehand today, falling to Marcelo Rios [8]. Rios, advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 victory. “I think I have a pretty good chance of winning the tournament”, said Rios, 22, who reached the quarterfinals in two Grand Slam tournaments last year, but is now in his first semifinal. “I feel more comfortable than ever. But everybody is playing good. I think it will be tough.” Rios will face Nicolas Escude, who beat Nicolas Kiefer, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2, and set a record for most times in a Grand Slam coming back from two sets down. Escude did it three times – against Magnus Larsson in the first round, against Richey Reneberg in the third round and against the No. 29-ranked Kiefer. Escude also beat French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten in four sets in the second round. Escude, who has climbed from No. 415 in the rankings a year ago to No. 81, is the first French man to reach the Australian Open semifinals since Yannick Noah in 1990. Leading 3:1 in the final set, Escude had to wait 45 minutes to finish while the Center Court roof was closed because of rain. “It’s like a dream, and I’d like to stay in that dream,” Escude said of his advance to the semifinal. At the start of the match, he was escude_ao98admittedly nervous and played “really bad” in the first and second sets. “After I was two sets down, I said, ‘Now you wake up.’ It’s unbelievable,” Escude said. “Already in the first and third rounds I was two sets down, and I said, ‘One more time,’ and I did it.” The Frenchman saved a mini-match point at 4-all in the 3rd set and the momentum shifted onto his side. Kiefer, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist last year, served 14 aces, but had 15 double faults. He also had 65 unforced errors to Escude’s 49. “I can’t say it’s a great feeling,” said Kiefer, 20, part of the German team being trained by Boris Becker. “I had a lot of chances to win this match. I’m very disappointed because it was a big chance to get into the semifinals and I don’t know what happened. I knew that he’s a good fighter and never gives up a point.” Rios also had a slight delay near the end. He called the trainer because of cramps in his left leg just before the last game and told Berasategui he didn’t think he could have played a fifth set. “It was too late for me,” Berasategui said. “If I had known (earlier), I could have tried more. But he was still running like the first set. I also was tired and cramping a little.” Rios later said he recovered, but “a fifth set would have been tough.”

Semifinals: Charleston Gazette, AP

Four sets, three cartwheels, two scissors kicks, one soaring spread eagle. Petr Korda did it all yesterday as he secured his place in the Australian Open final and celebrated with the springy exuberance of a kid half his age. And what would he do if he wins this Grand Slam tournament Sunday? Fly perhaps? “If I could get the telephone number of the Chicago Bulls, maybe I ask Mr. Jordan how to fly,” he said with a laugh. “Air Korda.” The way he’s playing, the name fits. Korda ascended to the final with a 6-1, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 victory today over Karol Kucera, the Slovak who sent defending champion Sampras packing in the quarterfinals. Korda will play for the title against 22-year-old Marcelo Rios of Chile, a 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 victor over Nicolas Escude. The Frenchman had come back from two sets down an Open-era record three times in the tournament, but Rios’ stronger baseline game prevented another great escape. Meanwhile, at the ripe tennis age of 30, six years after his first and, until now, only Grand Slam final in the French Open, Korda is enjoying a renaissance in his game and his life that is well worth celebrating in imaginative ways. His rehabs from groin surgery, back surgery, sinus surgery were less difficult for him physically, he said, than mentally and emotionally. “I always knew I could play tennis,” he said. “My left hand was always there. I didn’t lose a step, and still I was hurting. I was just not capable of doing what I really enjoy 100 percent. I had some very low moments in my life. But I was always surrounded with people who helped met to straighten up my back again.” He spoke of two key moments in his comeback, the first when he had groin surgery in 1995. “My wife, Regina, was really pushing me to play tennis again,” he said. Korda responded by going to England to work with Tony Pickard, Stefan Edberg‘s former coach. “Tony just put the spirit in me,” Korda said. Rios, the first Chilean to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open era and the first since Luis Ayala played for the French title in 1960, said he often didn’t care if he lost a match. And other players got on him for it. “A lot of guys asked me, ‘Why are you tanking?’ or ‘Why don’t you fight?The more years you are on the tour, you realize that you can win matches even if you are losing,” he said. “Some days I didn’t want to play. You wake up and you say, ‘I don’t want to play tennis. I don’t want to fight today.’ Sometimes I feel tired and I don’t want to play. But you have to do it.” His attitude began to change last year in the French Open where he came back to win from 1-2 and 0-2 in sets in the first two rounds. He realized not only that he could do it, but that “you have to be professional 24 hours a day.” Another key moment came when he played Michael Chang in the U.S. Open last September. Down two sets, Rios didn’t give up. Instead, he pushed it to five sets before losing. “That was the turnaround in a best-of-5 Grand Slam tennis match,” his coach, Larry Stefanki said. “When you see Michael Chang can be No. 2 in the world, and for quite a long time, why not Marcelo? In my mind, right now, he is No. 2.”

Final: AP

Nothing about the Australian Open final sparkled except the eyes of Petr Korda as he completed an emotional journey from tennis oblivion back toward the pinnacle of the sport with his first Grand Slam victory. The 30-year-old Korda, near retirement from relentless pain a few years ago, celebrated his revival today by falling to his knees in prayer, cartwheeling across court and climbing into the stands to hug his wife and daughter after a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 romp over wooden, error-prone Marcelo Rios. Korda played solidly, if unspectacularly, but that’s all he had to do against the Chilean, who could barely keep the ball on court and could never pressure Korda. Korda produced 32 winners, mostly off his forehand, compared to Rios’ mere seven. Korda, who will reach a career-high No. 2 in the next rankings, is the first Czech man to win the Australian title since his idol, Ivan Lendl, in 1989 and 1990. In his family home in the Czech Republic, Korda still has a poster autographed by Lendl. Only one other Czech man, Jan Kodes, ever won a Grand Slam title. Korda also is the oldest Grand Slam winner since Andres Gomez, a few months older, captured the French Open in 1990. Rios, who will reach a career-high No. 5 in the next rankings, was the first South American to reach the Australian final since Guillermo Vilas won in 1978 and 1979, and the first Chilean in a Grand Slam final since Luis Ayala was runner-up in the French Open in 1958 and 1960. Korda, who lost to Rios in straight sets in the first round of last year’s Australian Open and fell in the first round two years ago, ruled this match from the sixth game of the opening set, when he broke Rios for the second time for a 4:2 lead. Korda then held at love and broke Rios for a third straight time to close out the set in 27 minutes. Rios put up little resistance in the second set, going down by the same score in the same amount of time. By then it was clear Korda would have no letdown, and Rios would have nothing in him to claw his way back as he believes he’s learned to do. “I was waiting for this a long, long time,” Korda told the crowd. He gave special thanks to his wife, Regina, saying, “What we went through was unbelievable. I didn’t believe it could happen. It’s a dream come true.” Rios said: “He’s played a lot more matches than me and he’s got a lot more experience. I was missing too many balls. I wasn’t hitting as I wanted to hit it, and started losing confidence.” Korda’s 10th and last career title. Stats of the final.

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Australian Open, Melbourne
 January 18-February 1, 1999; 128 Draw; Surface – Hard

It was one of the most open majors in the 90s: deprived of two best players in the world at the time (Pete Sampras, Marcelo Rios) with a defending champion completely out of form and accused of taking forbidden substances (Petr Korda). The second best player of the 90s (Andre Agassi) was still trying to rediscover his form after a terrible 1997 season. Under these circumstances the first Australian champion since 1987 was almost guaranteed: after all the best local players Patrick Rafter and Mark Philippoussis met in the US Open final a few months earlier. Unfortunately for the Aussie fans, they were on a collision course in the last 16. In the end it didn’t matter, neither of them advanced even to the quarterfinals because both had been outlasted by Thomas Enqvist, who was in the form of his life in January 1999 – the Swede seemed unstoppable, but Yevgeny Kafelnikov – along with his coach Larry Stefanki – found a cure for Enqvist’s overwhelming ground-strokes.
First round: Phil Brown

He was on a losing streak, his ankle hurt, criticism over his drug case swirled around him, and his opponent accused him of faking injury. Thus went Petr Korda‘s return to the Australian Open, where last year, at age 30, the Czech player finally won his first Grand Slam title and captured the fans’ affections with his exuberant scissors-kicks and cartwheels. The spectator support was still there today as Korda struggled to a 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-2 first-round victory over 83rd-ranked Galo Blanco of Spain. But despite his 1998 victory, Korda was not invited to start out on center court. A capacity crowd of 6,000 watched him on Court One. Korda shrugged off all, but the left ankle injury – “swollen, and it hurts” – and said today’s victory would help him a lot. He rose to No. 2 in the rankings after last year’s Australian Open, but then slid into problems, including a positive test for steroid use during Wimbledon and a 2-8 record in tournament matches over the year’s last 4 1/2 months. He is now ranked 20th. “Right now I won a match, which really counts for me a lot. And hopefully my performance is going to go to another high level, but I am only going to try as best I can to defend my title,” Korda said. He hurt his ankle while leading 4:3 in the third set. The trainer told him it would be really painful, he said, and he replied: “I’ll be on court until the last ball.” Blanco, however, refused to shake Korda’s hand at the end of their match and later called Korda a liar who called for the trainer only to gain time to rest. “If someone asks for the trainer… and then runs like Korda did… it’s almost impossible,” Blanco said through an interpreter. Meanwhile, Blanco said his own week-old abdominal injury flared up when he was leading 4:1 in the fourth set, “so I couldn’t serve very well, and that was the key point of the match.”  Todd Martin, president of the ATP Tour Player Council, argued that while Korda’s case was in the courts, this was not the time for criticism. “I know some guys are upset about (Korda playing), but he is, right now, not on the agent, so he is not competing at an unfair level, and I think we have to trust that,” Martin said. Two former Australian Open winners, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, questioned the light punishment given Korda, who claimed “exceptional circumstances” when he escaped a ban from competition. “If I were innocent, you couldn’t prevent me from getting up and speaking,” Courier said after beating Dutch player Peter Wessels 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(0). “Everyone has got to walk their own walk. Petr and I have known each other since we were 16 years old. I would consider him a friend. I want it be very clear that this should not be considered a witch hunt.” Korda has refused to discuss the case while formal appeals are proceeding. Agassi said, “It’s about the health of the game, not some personal vendetta hewitt_ao99against Petr.Thomas Muster said that after a positive test, Korda “basically shouldn’t play until the whole thing is sorted out. I just think the way this whole thing is handled is pretty weak.” Meanwhile, 37th-ranked Nicolas Kiefer of Germany upset fourth-seeded Carlos Moya, the French Open champion, 6-7(7), 6-4, 7-6(6), 6-3, further depleting the top of the ranks. Moya led 5:2* (30/30) in the 3rd set. No. 1 Pete Sampras is staying home and No. 2 Marcelo Rios dropped out Monday because of a back injury. In a night match, 17-year-old Australian Lleyton Hewitt crushed 13th-seeded Cedric Pioline of France, the 1997 U.S. Open runner-up, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1. A year earlier, Hewitt became the lowest-ranked (then 550th) singles winner in ATP Tour history by winning a title in his hometown of Adelaide.  Rios will not get that elusive grand slam title at this Australian Open. A back injury forced him to withdraw Monday from the year’s first major championship. The Chilean, ranked No. 2, spent six weeks at No. 1 last year before Sampras overtook him to finish on top for a sixth straight year. Sampras is fatigued and not playing in Australia. Rios, who lost last year’s Australian final to Korda, has been told to rest at least four weeks, and that could cost him any chance of reaching No. 1 this year. The ATP Tour said Rios could plunge as low as No. 7 after this event with his withdrawal. Tournament doctor David Bolzonello said Rios should not play again until middle or late March. He came back indeed in March, at Indian Wells. Third seed Patrick Rafter took the court next, and quickly beat Germany’s Oliver Gross [92] 6-2, 6-4, 6-3. Fellow Australian Mark Philippoussis, the U.S. Open runner-up and 14th seed, defeated American Geoff Grant 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 in a night match. Rafter was admonished by the chair umpire for inappropriate T-shirt without a collar at the beginning of the match, one year later players began to use collarless T-shirts on a regular basis. Before the appearances by Rafter, Alex Corretja shared center stage with Takao Suzuki [116], a 22-year-old seeking to become the first Japanese man since 1989 to win a match in the Australian Open. Suzuki, who mixed deep angles with touch shots to keep Corretja running, served for the match at 5:4 in the fourth set after slamming four consecutive aces for 4:4 and then breaking the Spaniard with a stunning drop volley. But Corretja rallied from that crisis, and again from 0:3 in the tiebreaker, finally winning 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 in 3 hours 40 minutes. “I’m a really good fighter even if I’m not playing well,” Corretja said. “He just played fantastic tennis. He served unbelievably. Even his second serve was aggressive. I was almost knocked down.” The departure of Rios and Sampras’ absence left Corretja, Rafter, Moya and Agassi with a mathematical chance of taking over the No. 1 ranking. Tim Henman, Richard Krajicek and Karol Kucera all won matches. Henman, seeded sixth, beat Karim Alami of Morocco 6-3, 6-2, 6-1; No. 9 Krajicek defeated another Moroccan, Hicham Arazi, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 serving 30 aces; and No. 7 Kucera beat Fernando Vicente of Spain 6-2, 7-6(4), 6-3. Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, the 1997 French Open champion, beat South African Marcos Ondruska 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and Thomas Enqvist, winner of two warm-up tournaments, extended his 1999 winning streak to nine matches by beating American Jan-Michael Gambill 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-4. Michael Chang, a 1996 finalist who has fallen to 27th in the rankings, opened with a 7-6(7), 6-3, 6-3 victory over New Zealand’s Brett Steven. Spain’s Alberto Berasategui, who ousted crowd favorites Rafter and Agassi last year, went out in the first round. He retired with cramps in the fifth set while trailing American Jeff Tarango 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-4, 4-1. Goran Ivanisevic, who lost his third Wimbledon final last year, dropped out just hours before his match. He pinched a nerve in his back during the Qatar Open in Doha to start the year and was troubled again during last week’s Colonial Classic in Melbourne. “They gave me so much medicine to take – 10 pills a day, maybe more,” Ivanisevic said. “I cannot stay here. It’s too much pain to watch and hang in the locker room. Now it seems like the end of the world for me. It’s pretty sad.

Second round: Phil Brown

Men’s No. 8 seed Greg Rusedski didn’t survive his errors. The 1997 U.S. Open runner-up lost 6-4, 6-7(9), 7-6(5), 6-2 to former Stanford star Paul Goldstein [188] in a three-hour match during which he served nine double-faults – along with 12 aces – and had 76 unforced errors. Rusedski began the match leading 3:0* (40/30), in the 2nd set tie-break he saved a set point at 7:8. He was the eighth men’s seed to fall before the third round. “I think for someone in his position, he was a little bit frustrated. I kind of dug out some balls he maybe wasn’t expecting and created some angles,” said Goldstein. Rusedski agreed. “He played fantastic. You’d think you had the point won and it would come back two more times.”  Andre Agassi, at No. 5 now the second-ranking survivor in the field, crushed No. 60-ranked Slava Dosedel of the Czech Republic 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-0. Men’s defending champion Petr Korda needed only 78 minutes to advance to the third round with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Julian Alonso, the sole survivor among 14 Spanish men who started the tournament. Korda even brought back his victory scissors kick, seizing a chance to celebrate in the wake of the drug controversy that has arisen over his positive steroid test last summer. Shrugging off the “improper and insulting” cracks from several spectators, Korda said, “I have a high spirit. I have my head up. I am trying to play tennis only.” Pete Sampras didn’t come. Marcelo Rios got hurt and withdrew. Alex Corretja lost. That leaves Pat Rafter, the fourth-ranked men’s player in the world, as the favorite after his 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory against Mark Woodforde (50th major) last night in the second round of the Australian Open. “When I’m moving well I play well, and I was surprised how many balls I was getting to near the net,” Rafter said. “I felt very sharp.” Rafter, seeded third, plays Thomas Enqvist in the third round and could play Mark Philippoussis in the fourth. “Let’s hope Mark and I make it through to the fourth round,” Rafter said.
Christian Ruud, who spent much of last season in tennis’ minor leagues, knocked out second-seeded Alex Corretja today, leaving the Australian Open with only one of its top four men’s seeds. Ruud, a Norwegian ranked 86th in the world, belted back loopy ground-strokes throughout, and on the first match point, Corretja hit a forehand long on the 30th shot, giving Ruud a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory. Michael Chang, who in past years has usually been one of the top four, was thwarted in his comeback effort, falling 7-6(1), 2-6, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 to 14th-seeded Mark Philippoussis, the U.S. Open runner-up. Chang was seeded third last year, but has slumped to 27th in the rankings after a season of knee and wrist injuries. Ruud reached the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for only the third time in 17 tries. He had his best performance in the 1997 Australian Open, advancing to the fourth round. Corretja is the seventh men’s seed left on the sidelines. At the top, No. 1 Marcelo Rios withdrew with a back injury and No. 4 Carlos Moya, the French Open champion, lost in the first round to Germany’s Nicolas Kiefer. And top-ranked Pete Sampras stayed home. Corretja, the French Open runner-up, never settled into his game. He barely survived a five-set first-round match, in which 116th-ranked Takao Suzuki of Japan was serving for the match in the fourth set. Ruud finished 1997 ranked 66th, but slipped to 172nd in May and played much of the season on the Challenger circuit, winning four titles in six finals. He was 36-9 record on that circuit, and 4-15 mark on the main tour. “I think I’m the best player to come from Norway,” said Ruud. On the long rallies, he said: “It was too risky to go for the big shots. I just tried to keep the ball in play and let him make the mistakes. It worked out pretty well, I think.” Ruud also said a key to the match was his recovery from 0:3 in the third. “I think that made him a bit down, and he got a bit tired and negative,” Ruud said. Corretja said he never felt comfortable on court. “It was terrible,” he said. “I came here in really good shape, and last week I was playing good tennis. I thought I had a good chance.” Adding to Corretja’s frustrations was a warning and possible fine for hitting a ball boy while sending a ball back at the end of a game. Philippoussis gained the crucial break over Chang in the 11th game of the final set by twice running around his backhand to slam forehands straight down the line. Philippoussis served 20 aces to Chang’s 12 in the 3-hour, 45-minute match, and dictated the pace, going constantly for winners. “Mark played a tough match and came up with some good shots,” Chang said. “At the end the crucial ones went in or dribbled over.” Chang said he was healthy again, and hoping to beat some high-ranked players to “get the ball rolling” in an effort to climb back to the top 10. Philippoussis said he felt relaxed throughout. “I was a bit lucky at the end with those let cords, but that’s tennis,” he said of a couple of shots that dribbled over in the last two games. With the high seeds missing, No. 6 Tim Henman was in a strong position to win his first Grand Slam event on a court that suits him. But he had to rebound from a choppy start in blustery winds to reach the third round with a 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Australian Sandon Stolle. “I was just really pleased about the way I turned it around in the fourth and fifth,” said Henman, whose best Grand Slam result so far has been reaching last year’s Wimbledon semifinals, where he lost to Sampras. “Twelve months ago there’s a very, very good chance I would have lost that match. To be able to come through is a big bonus, but in future rounds I have got to try and not dig holes for myself,” he added. “This is a tournament I should do well at. The conditions are pretty favorable for me. If anything, (the court) does help the aggressive players, the serve and volleyers and the guys that are moving forward.” No. 7 Karol Kucera of Slovakia beat Italy’s Davide Sanguinetti 7-5, 6-1, 6-4, and No. 9 Richard Krajicek beat Mariano Zabaleta of Argentina 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. Sweden’s Thomas Enqvist, who had won two tuneup tournaments, reached the third round by beating Zimbabwe’s Byron Black 7-6(6), 7-6(2), 6-0, erasing a 4:6 deficit in the first tie-break. In a battle of two promising youngsters on Centre Court, Tommy Haas ousted Lleyton Hewitt 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 coming back from a 2:4 deficit in the 2nd set. Haas showed very good service performance (18 aces) and astonishing backhands down the line.

Third round: Phil Brown

U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter was upset by Thomas Enqvist. Sixth-seeded Tim Henman was defeated by Marc Rosset. And that was just in the Australian Open’s day session Friday. Under the Center Court lights, 26th-ranked Wayne Ferreira came back from two sets down to oust ninth seed Richard Krajicek, 6-7(1), 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. The South African topped Krajicek, 75-49, in baseline winners in the three-hour, 19-minute match. The latest surprises left just five of the 16 men’s seeds alive midway through the third round – and only two of the top eight. It also ended the immediate threat to the No. 1 ranking of Pete Sampras, who skipped the tournament, citing fatigue. Rafter, the third seed, could have overtaken Sampras by reaching the final. “It’s really open,” Enqvist said after reaching the fourth round by beating Australia’s Rafter, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. “I feel like I’m playing well enough to beat anyone in the draw, but that is not the same thing as going all the way and winning it.” So far this year, Sweden’s Enqvist has won 11 consecutive matches and two tuneups for this tournament. Enqvist, limited to 17 tournaments last year due to a foot injury, has yet to reach a semifinal in a Grand Slam event. Enqvist, ranked 21st, next plays Mark Philippoussis, the U.S. Open runner-up, No. 14 seed and Australia’s other hope for its first native winner since Mark Edmondson in 1976. Philippoussis never faced a break point after the first set as he served 17 aces and beat Slovakia’s Jan Kroslak, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. Another Slovak player, No. 7 Karol Kucera, a semifinalist last year, advanced with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Russian Marat Safin. He next plays Ferreira. Henman, leading, 5:2 in the first-set tiebreaker, never recovered from the ensuing series of winners by Rosset and went out, 7-6(5), 6-3, 7-5. Rosset attributed his success to taking more chances, while playing with a sore shoulder and painful stomach. “At the beginning of the third set, I wasn’t feeling that great,” said the Swiss player, who was the 1992 Olympic champion, but has never gone farther in a Grand Slam event than the semifinals. Yevgeny Kafelnikov qualified for the fourth round when Jim Courier pulled out in the fourth set with a groin strain. Kafelnikov was leading, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 3:0 (40/0), when Courier threw in the towel. He reeled in pain when Kafelnikov hit a backhand winner past him and turned to the umpire to wave his hands in sign of defeat. Todd Martin saved a few of his best serves for when he really needed them and eliminated defending champion Petr Korda from the Australian Open in a see-saw five-set match. Martin, the 15th seed, reached match point with his 29th ace of the three 1/2-hour match and hit three other unreturnable serves in the final game as he won 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4, advancing to the fourth round. At the end, at 1 a.m. Sunday, he hopped over the net, shook hands with Korda and spoke with him for a moment. He said he complimented the Czech player on how well he had dealt with the pressure of playing under a cloud here. Some players objected to Korda getting off without a suspension after testing positive for a steroid at Wimbledon last year. Martin, president of the ATP Tour Player Council, has insisted Korda must be allowed to play while the case is going through court challenges. Korda enjoyed warm support from the crowd of nearly 14,000, although one man yelled at one point: “You’d better get back on drugs.” Spectators around him shouted him down. Martin’s victory extended his winning streak to 13 matches. He started both the fourth and fifth sets by breaking Korda’s serve, but couldn’t hold his advantage in the fourth. Korda, who captured his first grand slam title by winning here at age 30 last year, blasted deadly ground strokes from both sides whenever Martin didn’t keep up the pressure. But in the third-set tiebreaker, while leading 5:2, Martin fooled Korda with a deep, soft forehand slice. Martin said he had intended to hit a drop shot but changed his mind in mid-shot. “I had my head up. I think I played on the best possible level,” Korda said. “He played some crucial points better than I did.”
For the first time in three matches, Andre Agassi didn’t score a 6-0. He beat Czech player Jiri Novak 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, and said that “if I can keep that standard up, I like my chances against anybody.” Only five men’s seeds remain in the tournament, and Agassi is the top at No. 5. On the Rebound Ace courts, in Melbourne’s heat, Agassi said, “I can really beat a guy up physically because I control most of the points.” Agassi has won three grand slam events, but none since the Australian in 1995. He fell as low as 141st in the rankings in 1997 before climbing back. Last year, he said, “I played some great matches. I just didn’t play those great matches at the right time.” He next meets 44th-ranked Vincent Spadea, a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 winner over Czech player Martin Damm, and a winner over Agassi in Cincinnati last August. Agassi called the 24-year-old American “the kind of player that can even play better against better guys.” Kafelnikov, the 1996 French Open champion, rates the favorites here as himself, Agassi, No. 7 Karol Kucera, Sweden’s Thomas Enqvist and South Africa’s Wayne Ferreira. Kafelnikov ‘s next opponent is Romanian Andrei Pavel, who struggled to a 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Paul Goldstein, the American newcomer who ousted eighth-seeded Rusedski in the second round.

Fourth round: AP

spadea_ao99I was constantly trying to make something happen, and it just wasn’t meant to be today, Andre Agassi, seeded fifth, said today after becoming the 13th of the 16 seeds to go out before the Australian Open quarterfinals. With all the higher seeds gone by the third round, Agassi had a glittering opportunity to win his first Grand Slam title since the Australian in 1995. Instead, it was the 44th-ranked Vincent Spadea who dictated play, making Agassi run and punishing second serves with sizzling returns down the line in a 6-1, 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-3 victory. There was the shot i,” he said. “n the 1st set when Agassi didn’t move a step as Spadea broke for a 5:1 lead after he popped back a mis-hit service return just over the net. There was another shot in the third set when Agassi struck a weak, listless forehand approach well wide to lose serve and give back a break. And in the fourth set, Agassi served as if he didn’t care anymore, or knew it wouldn’t matter, as he faced six break points in the first two service games, and was broken to 4:2 after he ran in late on a weak return. “It wasn’t good today,” Agassi said. “I was trying to work myself into the match, but I felt way out of my rhythm. I felt like I was constantly trying to make something happen, but it just wasn’t meant to be today.” Now it will be Spadea, rather than Agassi, with a chance to reach the semifinals by beating 33rd-ranked Tommy Haas of Germany. The highest remaining seed, No. 7 Karol Kucera of Slovakia, already is in the quarterfinals, facing Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador. No. 15 Todd Martin beat Wayne Black of Zimbabwe 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-4. He advanced to a quarterfinal meeting with No. 10 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the 1996 French Open champion, who outlasted Romania’s Andrei Pavel 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 3-6, 6-4 in a 3 1/2-hour match that ended after midnight. It was a match of the tournament, Pavel came back from a 3:5 in the 3rd set tie-break. The Romanian showed a varied, beautiful technically tennis, and perhaps thanks to that match built strong self-confidence which allowed him to be a tricky player, one of the bests to watch in the following decade. The No. 91-ranked Lapentti had never been past the second round in his 11 previous Grand Slam tournaments, but overcame the emotional Andrew Ilie in four sets. Kucera, coached by Miloslav Mecir, was guarded about his chances of surpassing his previous best Grand Slam performance here last year. “I just hope I can win the next one, but I don’t think about the title,” Kucera said. “It’s very open, there’s no big favorite.” Kucera was beaten in the semifinals last year by eventual champion Petr Korda. It was his only semi in 20 Slams. Ferreira had a letdown after an epic battle late Friday night, when he came back from two sets down to beat No. 9 seed Richard Krajicek. “I was a step too slow to get everywhere,” Ferreira said. “He moves so well and he’s playing good tennis, he’s got the game to win here.” While Kucera has cruised, Lapentti has needed to scrap all the way. He had cramps in the 3rd set of Sunday’s 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 win. rosset_ao99Kucera’s a very tough player. It’s going to be very tough for me to win because I’ll need to fight for every point against him,” Lapentti said. “I’ve played much longer matches than he has played, that makes a difference.” Marc Rosset played very solid match defeating Bohdan Ulihrach 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 on Court 3. The Swiss giant never faced a break point twice coming back from 0/30 with a bunch of powerful serves. In men’s play Sunday, Sweden’s Thomas Enqvist, who is unseeded, defeated 14th-seeded Mark Philippoussis, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7(3), 4-6, 6-2. Enqvist has knocked off Australia’s two stars in this tournament: Pat Rafter and Philippoussis. Against “Scud” he had been playing a perfect match until he was serving at 5:4 int he 3rd set, then was broken to ’30’ although hadn’t faced a break point before. Fabrice Santoro had a prospect to make one of the most amazing comebacks in Grand Slam history. The Frenchman had an easy volley on game point to lead 6:5 in a set in which he was *1:5 (0/40) down! Tommy Haas eventually prevailed this dramatic finish to score a 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 victory, his fourth consecutive win over Santoro.

Quarterfinals: NWS

Thomas Enqvist has never played like this. He has won all 13 of his matches this year, landing in the semifinals of the Australian Open. “When I step on court I’ve been feeling like I could beat anybody in the world,” he said. The Swede’s latest victory, a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Switzerland’s Marc Rosset today – was his easiest of the tournament and extended the longest winning streak of his career. Enqvist out-served Rosset, one of the game’s big servers. Enqvist made 69 percent of his first serves, including 15 aces, and conceded only three break points. Rosset played only two Grand Slam quarterfinals, it was the second one (in Paris ’96 he managed to advance to the semifinals). Earlier in the tournament, Enqvist toppled last year’s U.S. Open finalists – champion Pat Rafter and Mark Philippoussis, both Australians. He has already passed his previous best performance in a slam – the quarterfinals of the 1996 Australian Open. After their match, Philippoussis said Andre Agassi was the only player he thought could stop Enqvist in Melbourne. But Agassi, the fifth seed, lost to Spadea in the fourth round on Monday. Enqvist, once ranked No. 6 but dropped – and said today’s victory would help him a lot.  He is now ranked 20th. “I am playing more solid now than I have for a long time,” he said. He had a 10-match winning streak in 1996, which was ended by Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who is seeded 10th in Australia. “So far in my career I have beaten a lot of good players, but I haven’t really followed it up consistently,” Enqvist said. “That’s what I’m hoping to do this week.” 91st-ranked Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador advanced to the semifinals by outlasting seventh seed Karol Kucera 7-6(4), 6-7(6), 6-2, 0-6, 8-6, leaving only two men’s seeds surviving halfway through the quarterfinals. During 3-hour, 18-minute victory, the 22-year-old Ecuadorian failed while serving for the second set at 5:4. In the fourth, he fell behind 4:0 and then sloughed off the set, swinging wildly on game point in the fifth game and refusing to run for any shots in the sixth. He was broken back when serving for the final set at 5:3, but gained the decisive break in the 14th game, finishing with two winners down Kucera’s forehand line. “I knew it was a waste of time to keep fighting so I knew I had to take some risks and try to come back in the fifth,” Lapentti said of tanking the fourth set. It was the fourth 5-set win for him during the fortnight. In the first three rounds he had beaten 3-2 Swedish players, including Thomas Johansson – the future champion – from a match point down in the first round. The last two Americans were eliminated from the men’s draw in the quarterfinals in straight sets. Todd Martin, the 15th seed and a 1996 Wimbledon semifinalist, was done in by his erratic backhand and No. 10 Yevgeny Kafelnikov‘s accuracy. Kafelnikov, the 1996 French Open champion and the only surviving men’s seed, won 6-2, 7-6(1), 6-2. He advanced to a semifinal with 33rd-ranked Tommy Haas, a German who beat American Vince Spadea 7-6(5), 7-5, 6-3. Martin’s first defeat after a 14-match winning streak. Haas, 21, became the third unseeded player through to the semifinals at the Australian Open when he won a 135-minute quarterfinal battle of power-hitters. It was his best performance by far in a modest career in which he had been unable to make it past the third round of a Grand Slam. Haas secured the match when he broke 24-year-old Spadea’s serve in the ninth game of the final set. It is the first time the 20-year-old has moved beyond the third round of a Grand Slam tournament. Haas is only the fourth German man to make the semifinals in a Grand Slam since the start of the Open era in 1968. The others are Boris Becker, Michael Stich and Karl Meiler, who reached the 1973 Australian semis. Becker has won six Grand Slams, including the Australian twice. “I have some goals in my life, and that is to play good tennis, maybe win a Grand Slam tournament one year in my career, and to come into the top 10,” Haas said. Haas is ranked 33rd in the world. He has been working for 10 years under Agassi’s former coach Nick Bollettieri in Florida. He finished high school in the United States in 1996, when he made his debut on the ATP Tour. “I phoned Nick and I phoned my father straight after today’s match,” Haas said. “It was a big match for me and I’m really happy to be in my first semifinal in a Grand Slam.”

Semifinals: Steve Wilstein

Playing with robotic precision from the baseline, Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov reached the final of the Australian Open and virtually guaranteed he’ll walk away with the title. Kafelnikov, winner of the 1996 French Open, beat Germany’s Tommy Haas 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 Friday night and will play for his second Grand Slam title Sunday against unseeded Swede Thomas Enqvist. “I know I will get my chances,” Kafelnikov said. “Thomas is known, I wouldn’t say for choking, but...” Kafelnikov pointed out how Enqvist has had lapses in some big matches and could be vulnerable on his serve. “I’m glad the last two matches didn’t go to five sets,” Kafelnikov said. “They were both under two hours. I saved some energy for the final. I promise you it’s going to be a long one.” Despite his confidence and higher ranking than the No. 21 Enqvist, Kafelnikov isn’t too cocky. “I definitely feel like the underdog,” the No. 10 Kafelnikov said. “He’s in great form at the moment. Hopefully I’ll feel fresh. He hasn’t been stretched to the limit. I don’t know how he’s going to handle the pressure in a slam final,” Kafelnikov said. “But all I can say is I definitely feel like the underdog because he’s playing a lot better right now than me.” Against Haas, Kafelnikov broke on his first opportunity in the second game, saved a break point at 5:3, then polished off the set with an ace. Haas, a 20-year-old ranked No. 33, performed well in his first major semifinal, but couldn’t match Kafelnikov ‘s strength and stamina in long rallies over the next two sets. Kafelnikov, 24, simply stayed back and slugged it out, making Haas sprint from corner to corner until he broke down. On important points, Kafelnikov said, Haas “played stupid shots. He was playing his great shots at the wrong time.” Enqvist reached his first Grand Slam tournament final a day earlier by beating 91st-ranked Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador 6-3, 7-5, 6-1. Enqvist, set back last year by a foot injury, now has won 14 consecutive matches this year, including victories over U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter and runner-up Mark Philippoussis in the third and fourth rounds here. “It’s very exciting, unbelievable, to be in a Grand Slam final,” said the 24-year-old Swede, who once was ranked sixth in the world and now is No. 21. Enqvist’s best previous Grand Slam tournament result was the 1996 Australian, where he lost in the quarterfinals. Lapentti had come from behind in three five-set matches this tournament and upset seventh-seeded Karol Kucera in the quarterfinals. Because of that, Enqvist said, “I felt like I had to keep the pressure up, and I was able to do that.” He added, “There never have been as many good players as now. Twenty or 25 players can go to a Grand Slam tournament and have a chance to win it. That has to be very exciting.”

Final: Steve Wilstein

Five months ago, Yevgeny Kafelnikov had given up any hope of winning a second major title, resigning himself to being a “one-slam wonder.” “It’s way beyond my ability,” he said glumly. “For a little while I did believe I could get there, but it’s in the past.” The past came back joyously for Kafelnikov on Sunday when he beat Thomas Enqvist 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-6(1) to add the Australian Open title to the French Open he won in 1996. Kafelnikov’s world changed with his daughter’s birth in October, his wife’s encouragement to push his game to a higher level, and new coach Larry Stefanki‘s insistence that he could, once again, be a Grand Slam winner. Sidelined by strange accidents the past two years, Kafelnikov only had to keep his body intact this time to capture a weakened men’s tournament. Kafelnikov’s steady baseline play gave him the victory over an unusually error-prone Enqvist, who double faulted for the seventh time on match point and made 62 unforced errors. In a men’s draw diminished by the absence of No. 1 Pete Sampras, the apathetic play of Andre Agassi, and the early knockout of other top players, the No. 10 Kafelnikov emerged as champion almost by default. Kafelnikov raised the silver trophy at the end, smiled to the crowd and the cameras, and sent his best wishes to Sampras. “Pete, it’s really a great wonderful feeling,” Kafelnikov said. “Thanks for letting me do that.” The Russian played well, if unspectacularly, in the final, committing eight double faults himself, but limiting his unforced errors to 35. “When I won the first (major title) I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Kafelnikov said. “It was just a quick moment. Now I can really enjoy it.” Kafelnikov, 24, missed the Australian Open in 1998 after he hurt his left knee in a skiing accident a few weeks earlier. He had to skip the 1997 Australian Open because of a fractured finger suffered in a gym workout. Enqvist came into the final riding a 12-match winning streak that included victories last week over Australians Patrick Rafter and Mark Philippoussis, the U.S. Open finalists. But despite 19 aces, Enqvist couldn’t counter Kafelnikov ‘s deeper, more reliable groundstroke game. If only Enqvist could have played with the enthusiasm of the dozens of blue-and-yellow painted and garbed Swedes in the crowd, he might have had a chance. But there was never a sense of occasion in Enqvist’s quiet game, never a spark that showed he was ready to take his first major title. “He played too solid for me today,” Enqvist said. “I knew if I would hit the ball back every time, his game is shaky,” Kafelnikov said. “I tried to play longer points. And Thomas’ serve let him down in the second set. I broke Thomas mentally.” Enqvist won only 33 percent of the points on his first serve in the second set, after winning 89 percent in the first set. Kafelnikov criticized the 24-year-old Enqvist for playing so poorly, saying “it’s stupid” to get to a major final and not play as hard as possible. “I felt like Thomas had something in his body, that he still could try a little harder,” Kafelnikov said. Enqvist said that simply wasn’t true. “I missed a little bit more,” he said. “I was fresh. He looked a little tired. He was the guy running all the time. It’s too bad it didn’t go to a fifth set.” Kafelnikov said he can appreciate this victory more than the 1996 French after all he’s been through. “When I won my first Grand Slam, no one really noticed,” Kafelnikov said. “But now I know what it takes. Now I feel I really deserve it.” Kafelnikov was especially happy to get past being called a “one-slam wonder.” And making it sweeter, he said, was winning on a surface other than the French clay. “To win a different (major) feels better,” he said. But Kafelnikov knows he owes a lot to Sampras, the two-time champion who said he was too tired to play this year. “Whenever Pete is in the tournament, he is definitely the man to win,” Kafelnikov said, for whom it was 17th title (second major).But when he’s absent, it opens up the tournament for everybody, including myself.” Stats of the final

2 Responses to 1998 – 1999, Australian Open

  1. statsman says:
    ALL LEFTY GRAND SLAM FINALS (Open Era)
    1998 Australian Petr Korda d. Marcelo Rios
    1984 Wimbledon John McEnroe d. Jimmy Connors
    1982 Wimbledon Jimmy Connors d. John McEnroe
    1977 U.S. Open Guillermo Vilas d. Jimmy Connors
    1977 Australian (Jan.) Roscoe Tanner d. Guillermo Vilas
    1975 U.S. Open Manuel Orantes d. Jimmy Connors
    1969 U.S. Open Rod Laver d. Tony Roche
    1968 Wimbledon Rod Laver d. Tony Roche

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