Tennis: Croat cruises through

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GORAN IVANISEVIC, tipped as a dark horse for the United States Open by Pat Rafter, the defending men's singles champion, took a confident first step towards a possible fourth-round meeting with the Australian yesterday.

Inconsolable after losing to Pete Sampras in five sets in his third Wimbledon final in July, Ivanisevic was in a brighter mood after defeating Mark Woodforde, one of Rafter's compatriots, in the opening round. The Croat won, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, after 87 minutes.

Woodforde was not impressed. "He's got a serve and nothing else," he said. Right or wrong, Woodforde speaks from experience. He has lost six of his eight matches against the fellow left-hander.

Ivanisevic expected Woodforde to damn him with faint praise. "He doesn't like me," the Croat said. "He tried one time to hit me with the ball. He should retire from singles and stick to doubles. He's pretty old, can't move, and has that rubbish backhand. He only covers half the court playing doubles. If I have a son, I will show him pictures of Woodforde and tell him not to play like him."

The tone suggested that Ivanisevic had recovered his mischievous approach to the game after his Wimbledon disappointment. "It took a long time to try to forget about it," he said. "Pictures kept coming back."

Although Ivanisevic has yet to win an American tournament, he is optimistic of making an impact here. "I'm playing good, the court is playing faster, and anything is possible," he said. "Last time I won in the first round I reached the semis."