Tennis: Rusedski falls to qualifier

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GREG RUSEDSKI bade au revoir to the French Open last night, having failed to match Roger Taylor's feat of reaching the quarter-finals of the men's singles in 1973. Taylor, a left-hander from Yorkshire, lost to a temperamental artist, Ilie Nastase. Rusedski was defeated in straight sets on the slow clay by Marcelo Filippini, a 31-year-old Uruguayan qualifier unlikely be ranked among the greats (his current ATP Tour standing is No 140), but born to the surface.

A blistered big toe on the right foot did not help Rusedski as Filippini moved him about the court for more than two hours in winning, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4. Taking a positive view, the British No 2 has plenty of time for the digit to heal before he translates the rallying experience he has gained here to his preparation for Wimbledon, which starts three weeks today.

"I'll be seeing the doctor tomorrow, but hopefully it won't be long before I can practise on the grass," Rusedski said. "The blisters started yesterday, I tried today, but to no avail. Filippini took advantage and played well."

Rusedski's prospects of advancing beyond the fourth round here diminished after he was unable to convert either of two set points in the first set tie-break, which Filippini won, 10-8. Early in the second set, the trainer was called to treat Rusedski's toe. Although losing his serve for 3-5, Rusedski created four opportunities to break as Filippini served for the set.

Although broken in the first game of the third set, Rusedski tried hard to find a way into the match, but could not convert any of three break points at 3-4. Filippini eventually served out love in the 10th game, punching away a forehand volley on the first match point. The Uruguayan, who has not lost a set, will now test his rallying skills against Andre Agassi, who also capitalised on a turbulent day.

A thunderstorm tore up chestnut trees on the Champs- Elysees shortly before the willowy Venus Williams was toppled on the Suzanne Lenglen Court by Barbara Schwartz, an Austrian qualifier, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3. Schwartz, 20 years old and ranked No 125 in the world, earned the chance to play Martina Hingis, the world No 1, in the quarter-finals.

High hopes continued to fall, including those of Jana Novotna, the Wimbledon champion, who was also beaten by an Austrian, Sylvia Plischke, ranked No 34.

Carlos Moya, the defending men's singles champion, was unable to contain Agassi, who recovered from shaky start on the Centre Court to overcome the Spaniard, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-1, showing glimpses of the form that took him to consecutive finals here in 1990 and 1991. Agassi, the No 13 seed, has yet to add the French title to the Wimbledon, United States Open and Australian Open championships that marked him out as a winner earlier in the decade.

Young Hingis, too, is keen to complete her collection of Grand Slam singles titles. She will be aware of the left-handed Schwartz's determination and impressive cross-court backhand, but is no doubt relieved not to be facing Williams, the No 5 seed, whose growing confidence on clay accounted for her in the semi-finals of the Italian Open.

Williams, the form player of the clay court season, had never previously seen Schwartz play. "I was occupied playing my own matches," the American said. "I couldn't go. I didn't know who exactly I was playing. I didn't watch the draw so much."

Considering that Williams had won 22 of her previous 24 matches and had not failed to advance to the quarter-finals, at least, of the last six Grand Slam championships, her decision not to have Schwartz scouted could be taken either as a sign of self-confidence or of complacency.

"It didn't happen, what else can I say," Williams said. "You go out there, you compete, you play the ball, you play the point. I have to be prepared with my game."

To be fair, the 18-year-old American did not need a dossier to dominate her opponent in the opening set, and although the second set was closer, Williams created three match points at 6-5. Schwartz showed impressive resolve in salvaging the situation and forcing the tie-break, which she won on her third set point, 9-7. "I wasn't afraid," the 5ft 11in Schwartz said, "because I have my own power."

The forehand was believed to be Schwartz's best weapon until she began to torment Williams with the one-handed backhand in the concluding set. Schwartz broke for 3-1, was broken back for 3-2, but was encouraged when Williams netted a forehand, enabling Schwartz to serve for the match at 5-3. The Austrian suffered a couple of blips from 40-0, before producing a winning backhand down the line to convert her third match point.

Although Jennifer Capriati's hearty comeback from semi-obscurity was interrupted by Lindsay Davenport, the No 2 seed, 6-2, 6-3, the former prodigy has achieved enough during the past few weeks to suggest that her career, which was launched in sensational fashion in 1990, is far from finished.

"It wasn't a case of me running out of steam, or whatever," Capriati said. "She played really well. It's been a while since I've played her, and she's improved since the last time I played her."

The 23-year-old American hopes to continue her progress at Wimbledon. "I'm really looking forward to going there," she said. "Grass is one of my favourite surfaces. I'm just going to take a few days off and get back into working hard - working harder. I'm very optimistic about the future. This is just like a starting point for me."

Davenport next plays Steffi Graf, the No 6 seed, who wore down Anna Kournikova, 6-3, 7-6. In the semi-finals, the winner will meet either the third-seeded Monica Seles, last year's runner-up, or the unseeded Conchita Martinez. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the defending champion, had a walkover to the last eight when her fourth-round opponent, the American Mary Joe Fernandez, withdrew because of a thigh strain.

Marcelo Rios recovered from two sets down to defeat Alberto Berasategui, of Spain, who had a similar escape before eliminating Tim Henman in the previous round. Rios, the No 9 seed, overcame Berasategui 3-6, 3-6, 6- 3, 6-4, 6-3. The Chilean former world No 1 plays Dominik Hrbaty, of Slovakia, in the quarter-finals.