Tennis: Master class by Sanchez

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED States Open was in the process of awakening from a year's slumber when the 16-year-old Jelena Dokic arrived on court yesterday morning, determined to build on her astonishing performance at Wimbledon, where she dispatched Martina Hingis, the world No 1, in the first round en route to the quarter-finals.

A marked drop in temperature and a swirling wind indicated that Hurricane Dennis was making waves off the coast of the Carolinas, and with the seats filling slowly for an 11am start, Dokic may have felt as if she was about to play in the Grand Canyon rather than the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The Belgrade-born Australian quickly discovered that competing at this level is vastly different to dominating in the juniors, as she did at Flushing Meadows a year ago. Although Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario is smaller than most of the opponents Dokic swept from her path in becoming the world's No 1 junior, few players can match the 27-year-old Spaniard in terms of resilience and experience. Her career prize money - $14, 518,363 [pounds 9.1m] - is $15,000 more than the total for the US Open over the next two weeks.

Sanchez-Vicario, the 10th seed, won 7-5, 6-1 after 70 minutes, in a manner that may serve as an important lesson for Dokic. They had played once before, on slow clay in the quarter-finals in Cairo in April, Sanchez- Vicario winning 6-3, 6-1, on the way to her only tournament victory of the year. Dokic learned from that match, but not enough to sustain her challenge yesterday.

The opening set was fascinating. Sanchez-Vicario, struggling to find her range in the tricky conditions, double-faulted to lose the advantage of an early break, enabling Dolic to gain confidence and out-rally the game's great retriever in several games.

Dokic led 4-2, only to lose her serve in the next game. Sanchez-Vicario then held to love for 4-4, and even though she lost the opening two points points when serving at 4-5, she looking capable of absorbing any further shocks. Dokic, in contrast, began to spray the ball under pressure.

As the second set progressed, Sanchez-Vicario, making her 13th appearance at the US Open, made Dokic look the beginner she is, generally finding the precise shots to increase the youngster's discomfit. Dokic did well to salvage the fifth game, on serve, to interrupt the Spaniard's surge into the second round.

Irena Spirlea, from Romania, is best known for being disqualified from a tournament for swearing and for bumping into the American Venus Williams on the way to a change-over during the 1997 US Open. Yesterday, the world No 20 made an impact in a more conventional fashion by defeating Amanda Coetzer, the South African No 6 seed, 6-1, 7-5.

The men's singles began with a sprint by the Dutchman Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, whose serve devastated Philip King, a 17- year-old American wild card, ranked No 703 in the world, 6-1, 6-4, 6-0.

On Sunday night, Greg Rusedski was beaten 6-4, 7-6 by Pete Sampras's first-round opponent, Marat Safin, in the final of the MFS Pro Championships in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The 19-year-old Russian served 16 aces and did not face a break-point en route to claiming his first Tour title.

"He served too good," Rusedski said. "If you can't touch his serve, you're not going to win many points."

The British No 2 was pleased with his progress, after nearly two months out with a toe injury. "I was close," he said. "Marat has great talent and he is sure to be a top 10 player. He beat Andre Agassi at the French Open in 1998, that says something."

The world No 31 broke Rusedski's serve in the seventh game, which was all he needed to take the opening set. Games went with serve in the second set, until the tiebreak, where Safin saved two set- points before winning 13-11 on his sixth championship point.

"It's nice to win, " Safin said. "But now I have to play Sampras and that's not so nice."

Rusedski has a less daunting first-round test. The Canadian plays the world No 64, Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain.