Tennis: Rusedski frustrated by Kuerten

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The Independent Online
GREG RUSEDSKI'S bad start to 1999 continued yesterday when he went out in the first round of the Sydney International. The British No 2's 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 defeat by Gustavo Kuerten was his second consecutive first-round defeat in the opening two ATP tournaments of the year.

Last week, Rusedski was beaten in his match against the German Bernd Karbacher in the Qatar Open, losing 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, while his British rival, Tim Henman, reached the final.

At least the Brazilian Kuerten is a recognised star of the tour, with a French Open title under his belt, but with Rusedski seeded five, and ranked nine in the world, it was still an upset.

Rusedski, who now goes into next week's Australian Open in Melbourne with just two competitive matches under his belt since the end of last season, was calm after his latest setback, however. "There's nothing to be negative about, nothing to be down about it," Rusedski said. "Kuerten just played a great match, he was just too good."

The US Open champion, Patrick Rafter, was another player who squandered the chance of vital match practice before next week's Australian Open when he lost 7-6, 6-1 to the teenager Lleyton Hewitt in the first round of the Sydney International.

Hewitt has a particular liking for big scalps. When he won the Adelaide Hardcourt Championships last year at the age of 16 he beat the former world No 1 Andre Agassi on the way.

The young Australian counter-puncher managed to keep a rusty Rafter on the move throughout, forcing him into repeated errors, and never allowed the world No 4 to stamp any authority on the match. After four breaks of service in the opening set, Hewitt took it easily on the tie-break 7-1.

Hewitt was too strong for Rafter in the second set, rifling winners past the second seed. He broke service twice to seal victory in 81 minutes. Hewitt now faces Nicolas Kiefer of Germany in the second round.

Rafter was a second-round loser to the Czech Slava Dosedel at the Adelaide tournament and yesterday's defeat means he will line up in Melbourne having played only three matches after returning from a two-month lay-off with a knee injury. "My concentration slipped. It was a little bit up and down," Rafter said.

Speaking of his problems playing in Australia - he has never progressed beyond the fourth round in seven Australian Opens - Rafter said: "It's always a pretty big issue for me and I don't think it will change. I've always struggled at home."

In the women's event, the former women's No 1 Martina Hingis was in typically devastating form as she disposed of another promising Australian teenager, Alicia Molik, 6-1 6-2.

Molik, 17, had beaten the world No 16 Natasha Zvereva in the first round after gaining a wild card entry.

Hingis, the world No 2, produced a clinical display to beat Molik in her opening match of the tournament. She broke the Australian's first two service games on the way to a 5-0 lead in the first set and then pushed the tall Molik around the court at will in the second to wrap up victory in under an hour.

"I was concentrating very well today and played almost without mistakes," said Hingis, who will be defending her Australian Open title next week.

Spain's Conchita Martinez, seeded five, lost in straight sets to the Austrian, Barbara Schett.

The men's world No 2, Marcelo Rios, dropped out of the ATP tournament in Auckland yesterday just 46 minutes into his first-round match.

A recurrence of a back injury which troubled him at the end of last year was apparently the reason for his withdrawal. The Chilean was the top seed at the Heineken Auckland Open.

Rios had won the first set of his match against the Romanian Andre Pavel 7-5, but when he was broken in the second game of the second set - refusing to chase a ball on break point - he withdrew to the locker-room to receive treatment for back pain.

In the second round of the Tasmanian International women's event in Hobart, Ruxandra Dragomir became the third seed to be beaten. The Romanian, seeded seven, had no answer to Grande's big forehand and crisp volleying and the Italian, who has been out of the game with a back injury, achieved a comprehensive 6-1, 6-3 victory.