Tennis: Ivanisevic plays the fall guy

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The Independent Online
GORAN IVANISEVIC's capacity for surprise, it seems, is inexhaustible. Give him the gift of the best serve in the world and he will double-fault twice to throw away the Wimbledon final. Make him by far the highest ranked player in the semi-finals of the Olympic Games and he will go out to an unseeded player he had beaten in straight sets a month previously.

Yesterday he broke the mould of male respect for rank at the US Open when he collapsed in just 74 minutes to Alexander Volkov. Until that point the Goliaths had been side-stepping the catapult shot so effectively that the highest number of seeds, 14, had reached the third round since 1984. But if the Croat can find an exception to rule he will do and he was beaten 6-4, 6-0, 6-3.

Volkov, a Russian from Kaliningrad, is ranked 20th in the world and his main claim to fame before yesterday was a first-round win over Stefan Edberg here two years ago and a tournament victory in Milan in 1991. He laid into the listless No 5 seed with a series of fierce first serves while taking five of the six chances he had to break.

Ivanisevic called a doctor to the court but in the time-honoured fashion he did not use that as an excuse. Instead he used it like a hypochondriac's charter. 'I felt so tired,' he began. 'My arms were heavy, my legs were heavy. Since I came to America I feel very sick. I can't sleep. Every time I wake up I have a bad stomach cramps. I can't eat . . . ' The list of complaints was endless.

Volkov, a 25-year-old left-hander, put it more simply. 'I served well,' he said, 'and I made no mistakes from the baseline.' The recipe for perfect tennis.

While Ivanisevic was departing, the man who beat him to take the Wimbledon title, Andre Agassi, was progressing to the fourth round with the minimum of fuss. Wearing the All England Club colours of purple and green, the American beat Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. Before a half-empty Stadium Court Agassi probably expended more energy in his warm-up than he needed in the match.

Agassi, who has been accused of talking bull more than once in his career, now prefers to be bullish. 'It's not easy to go out there and handle these guys in three sets,' he said, 'and to do it proves that I am staying focussed and my mind is where it needs to be to win this tournament. After winning Wimbledon, no question, the pieces are there.'

Which is not an accusation that could be pointed at Jim Courier at the moment. The American arrived at Wimbledon with the nickname 'the machine' and, as winner of the Australian and French Opens, a Grand Slam in sight. Since then a spanner has gone into the works and it was in keeping with his current form that he had to work far harder to beat Cedric Pioline of France than the scoreline of 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 suggests.

The No 1 seed will now meet John McEnroe who, like Agassi, had a straight-sets win on Flushing Meadow's main court, defeating Richard Fromberg 6-3, 6-1, 6-4. McEnroe, four times a US Open winner, was beaten comprehensively when they last met in Japan last year but will feel happier to be meeting Courier now than four months ago.

'If you don't believe you have a chance then you can't win,' McEnroe said. 'He is the No 1 player in the world, he has no weaknesses, so I will need to step up a level. But I'm confident, I wouldn't be here if I wasn't'

At least McEnroe, the 16th seed, is here. Being a women's seed at Flushing Meadow the has had all the security of a Royal Family phone call and another fell yesterday, Katerina Maleeva of Bulgaria, to bring the number of causulties in the elite to seven in six days.

Maleeva was beaten 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 by the 16-year-old American Chanda Rubinin a result that prevented the 15th seed from meeting her younger sister, 17-year-old Magdalena, in the fourth round. Those interested in sibling rivalry need not despair, however, for Magdalena, who defeated Kimberley Po 6-2, 6- 3 yesterday and ousted Martina Navratilova on Thursday, will meet the eldestof the Maleeva clan, Manuela, if they reach the quarter-finals. Success, no matter who came out on top, will be relative.

The cull of the seeds is reducing the odds on a third successive meeting in a grand-slam final between Steffi Graf and Monica Seles and the former joined the latter in the third round at yesterday when she beat Nanne Dahlman 6-4, 6-2.

For Graf, the No 2 seed and Wimbledon champion, the match carried echoes of the Seles contest with Claudia Porwik on the previous evening. Porwik had flown out of the slips at at Seles and Dahlman, too, had Graf on the defensive initially. The Finn, whose appearance in the third round is her best performance in a grand-slam event, depends on her groundstrokes as her chief weapons but she advanced purposefully to take the opening game and then had Graf's serve creaking at 15-40.

The groaning sound was not Graf buckling under the strain, however, but the German urging herself to do better. She won four successive points to soothe the immediate problem and then broke her opponent four times to win in 59 minutes.

Graf had not been particularly impressive but she had avoided the alarm of Seles, who who was down 4-1 at one point against an opponent whose pre-match briefing must have been on the lines of 'attack is not aggressive enough'.

At first Seles, the No 1 seed, reacted like the commanders of the Russian guns must have when they suddenly saw the Light Brigade hareing towards them. 'She was coming in on everything,' she said, 'even on easy ball. I'm not used to that and at first I was thinking 'okay, these are simple, I can't miss'. Then I'd miss them.'

Once she had found her range the result was like that at Balaclava, a massacre. Seles rattled off 11 games in succession while Porwik, still charging forward, could gain only seven points in an 18-minute second set. It was glorious, but it was not sensible tennis.