Tennis: Agassi undone by `journeyman'

Australian Open: Kournikova's campaign curtailed as Seles and Graf advance to rekindle great rivalry
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The Independent Online
THE AUSTRALIAN Open lost two of its favourites yesterday when the former champion Andre Agassi was abruptly dismissed from the year's first Grand Slam and the somewhat fortunate run of the Russian teenager Anna Kournikova came to an end.

The former French Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov almost joined them. The Russian 10th seed was two points from winning in the third set against the Romanian Andrei Pavel, but was made to fight on for a 6-3, 7-6, 6- 7, 3-6, 6-4 victory.

If Kafelnikov had gone out, the tournament would have matched the 1997 French Open as the Grand Slam with the fewest seeds in the men's quarter- finals. Only the 15th seed, Todd Martin of the United States, and the seventh seed, Slovakia's Karol Kucera, survived the fourth round.

On the women's side, the former champions Steffi Graf and Monica Seles shone brightly to set up a quarter-final that rekindles one of the great rivalries of modern tennis.

Vincent Spadea, described by former champion Agassi last year as a mere "journeyman", scored his biggest career victory by beating his compatriot 6-1, 7-5, 6-7, 6-3. Spadea has developed a taste for beating big names, upsetting Agassi, Petr Korda, Pat Rafter and Richard Krajicek - all Grand Slam winners - during the 1998 North American hardcourt season.

The world No 44 showed cast-iron nerves to run a sluggish Agassi from one side of the court to another. The Las Vegan began slowly and sputtered to life only briefly in the third set. "It's real disappointing," Agassi lamented. "Grand Slams are just an opportunity to do something great."

Mary Pierce, the 1995 Open champion and seventh seed, beat Kournikova 6-0, 6-4 - but there was little in the Russian's game to suggest that she, too, had been seeded.

Kournikova has had a fairly disastrous tournament and served an embarrassing 54 double-faults as she scraped past lesser opponents in the first two rounds. Her service problems became the butt of jokes by other players, including her doubles partner, Martina Hingis. But in this match she served only five double-faults against the Frenchwoman, though three of them came in a 19-minute first set.

However, the 17-year-old Russian put a positive spin on her Melbourne appearances. "I feel good right now about my serve. I feel like I could put in 100 balls in a row and that's the good thing about it," she claimed.

Pierce's next opponent will be the world No 2 and defending champion, Hingis, whom she has beaten five times in their nine previous meetings. Hingis battled the heat and a determined Amanda Coetzer, of South Africa, on an outside court before emerging a 6-3, 6-7, 6-1 winner.

The Swiss teenager lost her way in the second set and called for a break, allowed under the rules when the temperature exceeds 28C - and it was then 31C. She re-emerged refreshed to regain momentum and set up her fourth consecutive quarter-final in Melbourne.

Martin overcame the unseeded Zimbawean Wayne Black 7-6, 6-4, 6-4. Kucera meets the unsung Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador, in the quarter-finals today. Spadea will play Tommy Haas in the quarter-finals after the unseeded German beat Fabrice Santoro, of France, 6-2, 6-3, 7-5.

Kafelnikov claimed the last quarter-final place after his Centre Court marathon. He seemed to be coasting home after he won the first two sets and led 5-3 in the third-set tie-break before Pavel fought back. The unseeded Romanian strung four points in a row to take the third set then broke Kafelnikov in the ninth game of the fourth to square the match.

Kafelnikov failed to serve out the match after breaking Pavel in the final set for 5-2 but broke him again in the following game to claim victory after three hours 33 minutes.

Graf and Seles, who have won eight Australian Open titles between them, will meet in the quarter-finals tomorrow. Graf, seeded 10th and champion in Melbourne from 1988 to 1990 and again in 1994, overpowered the unseeded Austrian baseliner, Barbara Schett, 6-1, 6-1 in 47 minutes.

Seles, the No 6 seed, followed Graf on to Centre Court and spent exactly the same amount of time there. She worked only slightly harder to beat the 14th seed, France's Sandrine Testud, 6-0, 6-3 to extend her unbeaten run in Melbourne to 32 matches.

Graf and Seles have not met in a Grand Slam since the German won the 1996 US Open final. "You know you're going to have to raise your level of game but I try, try to be up for each match," Seles said of her rematch.

Results, Digest, page 23