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  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 third 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 , 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 . 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. Nicolas Escude won his second five-setter erasing a two-sets-to-love deficit (against Richey Reneberg).
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 Carlos 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  – 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  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 . 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 admittedly 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.”
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.