Tennis: Stich cut down by Kafelnikov: Russian's winning roulette

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The Independent Online
RUSSIAN roulette seems to be catching on here. Michael Stich joined Andre Agassi in pointing to self-inflicted wounds after falling at the feet of Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the Monte Carlo Open. They ought to realise that the 20- year-old from the Black Sea loads all the chambers.

Agassi declared himself to have played 'like a dumb ass' after losing to Kafelnikov in the first round. Stich, the No 1 seed, bemoaned the number of opportunities he had spurned after being defeated, 7-6, 6-4, and denied a place in today's quarter-finals.

While both players had reason to lament their performances, it would be misleading to infer that Kafelnikov simply goes on the court and picks up the pieces after his opponents have met with an accident.

As Pete Sampras, the world No 1, confirmed after coming within two points of grief at the Australian Open in January, Kafelnikov has all the shots and determination to be top-10 material.

'Maybe Michael does not respect me as a player,' the Russian suggested when asked how he had managed to beat the former Wimbledon champion in three of their four matches.

This is not the case. 'I think he has proven many times that he can beat good players,' Stich said. 'He is a very talented player, and a guy to watch out for in the next couple of years.'

Stich was fuming because he broke Kafelnikov's potent serve twice in the opening set, failed to convert break points in the other games, and then faltered when serving for the set at 6-5. He received a warning for belting a ball in anger after netting a high forehand volley on break point.

Kafelnikov won the tie- break, 7-3, and showed little sign of cracking even when pulled back to 4-4 from 4-2 in the second set. The Russian, ranked No 42, broke Stich for the fifth time in the next game, and held to win after an hour and 47 minutes.

A repetition today of his win against the Czech, David Rikl, in Adelaide in January would see Kafelnikov through to the semi-finals. Andrei Chesnokov, from Moscow, is the only Russian to have won the title, in 1990.

Kafelnikov is not the only representative from the former Soviet Union staking a claim, though his friend Andrei Medvedev will do well to unsettle a confident Jim Courier in the quarter-finals.

Stefan Edberg is also grooving into good form, though the Swede will not take too much for granted from his record against Thomas Muster, the 1992 champion. Edberg, who has won their four previous matches, the first three on clay, knows how much the Austrian enjoys competing on these courts.

'I'm going to be under pressure against Thomas tomorrow,' Edberg said. 'If he has you run around, you are going to run around like a rabbit.'