Greg Rusedski's Australian Open bandwagon gathered pace in Melbourne yesterday as he was given a clear sight of a second successive Grand Slam final appearance.
The No 5 seed marched into the third round with a comfortable victory over Jonathan Stark, who was forced to retire with a knee injury when trailing 6-4, 6-4, 1-0.
Rusedski then discovered he cannot now meet another seed until the semi- final stage after the No 3 seed, Michael Chang, and Gustavo Kuerten, ranked 12 and the French Open champion, both lost.
Only Patrick Rafter, the No 2 seed who beat him in the US Open final last year, stands in his way in a possible semi-final match and the Australian's progress so far has been anything but smooth.
Rusedski fired down 14 aces in battering Stark, who was struggling with a long-standing knee injury that needed treatment in the second set.
The 24-year-old Montreal native was even able to banter with a group of fans who had turned a section of court three, graveyard of Tim Henman's title hopes two days ago, into a home from home.
Around 30 spectators, who had gathered to watch, adapted football songs to spur on Rusedski. "I was having a little bit of a laugh," Rusedski said. "When people chant like that for you in the crowds I think they deserve a little bit of a signature. I enjoyed their songs today - it was good fun.
"But I was pleased with the way I played. I think I'm playing better now than I was at the US Open - I'm feeling just as relaxed and feeling confident. I thought I returned well, I passed well and I couldn't ask to serve any better than I did today. Those three aspects and being sharp overall made it a very satisfying day."
Stark, unable to use any inside knowledge gleaned from his new coach, Brian Teacher, who was sacked by Rusedski after the US Open, believes his conqueror is a real title challenger.
"Greg's serve is dangerous anywhere, but here it's even more so because it bounces higher," Stark said.
Rusedski will next meet Australian Todd Woodbridge in the third round after the doubles specialist came through in four sets against Christophe Van Garsse, of Belgium.
Chang, Rusedski's potential quarter-final opponent, lost in straight sets to France's Guillaume Raoux whose compatriot, Nicolas Escude, knocked out Brazil's Kuerten in four.
Rafter survived in five sets against old campaigner Todd Martin, runner- up in Australia in 1994, after a tiring battle on a centre court where temperatures went up to the high 30s.
But also looming as a possible opponent in the last four is the 1995 champion, Andre Agassi, who knocked out the No 16 seed, Albert Costa, in four sets.
Agassi, making a comeback after an injury which has sent his world ranking plummeting, won 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 to leave only Rusedski, Rafter and Marcelo Rios, of Chile, as the only seeded players remaining in the bottom half of the draw.
Agassi now plays Italy's Andrea Gaudenzi with Rafter his likely opponent if he comes through that match. "It's great to be able to get back and kick some butt again," Agassi said. "That was a very significant victory for me. It's a good win because I have not really re-established myself against the seeded players again. It was good to remind myself what makes me better than some people I play against."
In the women's singles, Martina Hingis, the holder, overcame a first- set lapse, when she lost five games in a row, to beat Germany's Barbara Rittner 7-5, 6-1.
Goran Ivansevic has been fined a second time for misconduct during his first-round defeat at the Australian Open, meaning he has now lost his entire championship earnings. The 26-year-old 13th seed was fined $4,000 (pounds 2,600) for a four letter expletive. He was fined $5,000 earlier for not attending the post-match press conference. Grand Slam officials also fined American Jeff Tarango $3,000 for an outburst at the umpire during his first-round defeat by Rafter.Reuse content