TENNIS Ivanisevic proves unqualified failure

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TENNIS

JOHN ROBERTS

reports from Paris

It was quite a day for qualifiers at the French Open. Mikael Tillstrom, of Sweden, made a name for himself by eliminating Goran Ivanisevic, the fourth seed, and Germany's Carsten Arriens become only the second player in the open era to be disqualified in a Grand Slam championship, following John McEnroe in Australia in 1990.

The 26-year-old Arriens, who was defaulted in two smaller events last year, struck a line judge on an ankle when throwing his racket after losing the second set of his first-round match against the New Zealander Brett Steven.

Ivanisevic, not for the first time, said he felt like breaking all his rackets and quitting the game. The wonder is that his coach, Bob Brett, did not volunteer to help with the demolition.

Since walking off the Centre Court at Wimbledon after falling to Pete Sampras in last year's final, Ivanisevic has won only one set in three Grand Slams. He has been defeated in the first round by Markus Zoecke in New York, Carl-Uwe Steeb in Melbourne, and Tillstrom here yesterday; fine players, but hardly world beaters.

In each case, the big-serving Croat has contributed hugely to the success of his opponents by allowing his mind to stray from the court. Tillstom, ranked No 142 in the world, was delighted to capitalise, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.

The 23-year-old from Gothenburg also had reason to consider retiring from the sport during the aftermath of a defeat by Sampras last year. That was barely a month after Tillstrom had lost in the fourth round here, again after qualifying. His frustration was induced by injuries to both knees, which kept him out of the game for five months.

He was lively enough yesterday to punish Ivanisevic's habit of delivering the ball mid-court, inviting winning drives, and was not put out of his confident stride by two lengthy rain breaks and an overrule on his first match point.

The first delay came with the Swede 6-5 up, Ivanisevic serving at 30- 0 and a tie-break looming. Forty minutes later, Tillstrom won eight points in a row and was on his way to a two-set lead.

In the third set, with the Swede leading 5-3 and Ivanisevic serving at 30-40, a linesman decided that a backhand from the Croat had landed over the baseline, but he was contradicted by the German umpire, Roland Herfel. Tillstrom concurred. "I saw the ball good and I didn't have a chance to put it back, so it was a good decision by the umpire to give Goran the point," he said.

Ivansevic held for 4-5 and was 0-30 on the Swede's serve when rain intervened for the second time. On this occasion the players were off court for two hours and five minutes, and when they returned Tillstrom presented his opponent with three break points. He rescued the situation and won with a low backhand volley into an empty court on his fourth match point.

Although a knee operation in February cost Ivanisevic two months of activity, he performed well enough in clay court events en route to Paris to suggest more than one day's appearance at Roland Garros, when not even 17 aces kept him in the tournament.

"This is the worst loss I've had in my life," the Croat said. "He played good, but I didn't hurt him. I gave him good rhythm. Every ball was in the middle, and he had the time to hit winners. In the next 10 days I am not going to touch a racket, and then I'll see what I do after that."

Conchita Martinez is another player to have experienced trying times since last year's Wimbledon championships, but the Spaniard at least left the All England Club with a singles title and has looked every inch a winner during the clay-court season.

Sabine Hack, of Germany, the last player to defeat Martinez on clay - in three sets at the Fed Cup in Frankfurt last July - became the latest victim of the Spaniard's sequence of 20 consecutive victories on the surface, losing 6-0, 6-0 in 44 minutes.

Hack, ranked No 35 in the world, gleaned only 14 points from the fourth seed, who amazed observers with the number of winning volleys she hit from mid-court. A year ago, Hack was the 16th seed when losing to Martinez in three sets in the quarter-finals.

Two seeds were eliminated from Martinez's half of the draw by qualifiers. Natasha Zvereva (10) lost 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 to Catalina Cristea, a 19-year- old Romanian, ranked No 160, and Mary Joe Fernandez (13) was beaten 6- 4, 6-3 by Paola Suarez, an 18-year-old Argentinian, ranked No 173.

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