Tennis: Paris boost for shaky Kafelnikov

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD No 1, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, received a big boost to his morale before next week's French Open when he demolished Franco Squillari, of Argentina, 6-4, 6-1 in the second round of the ATP Tournament, in St Poelten, Austria, yesterday.

"My confidence was really shaky," said the Russian, who last reached a quarter-final in London in February. "If I win this week then, and only then, will I be a favourite for the French Open. A victory here will be a big thing for me."

The 25-year-old Australian Open champion, the winner in Paris in 1996, believes the Grand Slam tournament is wide open. "No one player is dominating on clay this year," he said. "There are about 20 guys who can win the French. You can't say [Gustavo] Kuerten is a favourite even though he did win two super-9 tournaments.

"Pete Sampras has never been a favourite for the French and there's no guarantee [Carlos] Moya is going to repeat his performance from last year."

Kafelnikov blamed his recent form - which included two first round and four second round exits since winning in Rotterdam in February - on fatigue. "The Davis Cup tie against Germany in April was a really big thing for me, but it also meant I was tired for the Estoril tournament [the following week]," he said "It also gave me no time to prepare for clay. I didn't feel ready for this surface physically."

In Dusseldorf Richey Reneberg upset Dominik Hrbaty and Sampras overcame a lapse in the second set to beat Karol Kucera as the United States stayed on course to reach the final of the World Team Cup after taking a 2-0 winning lead over Slovakia.

Australia also led 2-0 against France with singles victories by Patrick Rafter against Cedric Pioline and Mark Philippoussis over Nicolas Escude, and the winner of the Blue Group will be decided in a showdown between the two undefeated teams tomorrow.

Reneberg, who was called into singles duty by the United States after Andre Agassi pulled out of the event because of a shoulder injury, was ranked in the top 100 of the ATP Tour world rankings for nine years, but has since dropped to No 291.

Reneberg gave the American team a rousing start by beating the 31st-ranked Hrbaty 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, and Sampras then secured the victory in the best- of-three series by beating Kucera 7-6, 4-6, 6-2.

Rafter, who missed the chance to become world No. 1 when losing Sunday's final at the Italian Open to Kuerten, led 5-2 in the first set before allowing Pioline to come back to force a tie-break. The Australian, who is ranked world No 3, stayed true to his serve-and-volley game despite the surface to prevail 12-10, and Pioline put up little resistance in the second set as Rafter completed a 7-6, 6-1 victory.

Philippoussis clinched the tie by beating the erratic Escude 6-1, 7-6.