Tennis: Wimbledon 99 - Rafter enjoys `hard court' cruise

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The Independent Online
PAT RAFTER ought to be good on grass - but you would be forgiven for wondering why, given his record. A serve and volleyer, he has charged the net at Wimbledon for six years and carried on going, having not progressed beyond the fourth round despite being seeded on the last three occasions.

Maybe this time will be different because the Australian No 2 seed was resolutely uncompromising in disposing of Cristiano Caratti, an Italian whose affinity to grass courts is so strong he had never played on the surface before.

OK, he was not the hardest opponent, but you cannot argue with 6-3, 6- 2, 6-2. "It's good to get the first one [out of the way] because it's always a bit tough," Rafter, the winner of the last two US Opens, said. "You're never sure what to expect out there."

Rafter will now meet Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, a 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 winner against Grant Stafford yesterday, who also happens to be his doubles partner.

"We know each other's games very well and it will just be a matter of who plays better on the day." How would the doubles go today? "We'll be hitting each other on the back of the head," Rafter joked.

The Australian believes the conditions are different from normal because the lack of rain has given them the characteristics of a hard court. "The English weather has been good to us," he said after the match. "If it stays this way the courts will get better and better."

Rafter passed the time waiting to go out on Court One by watching his compatriot, Jelena Dokic, beat Martina Hingis in one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history.

"All the Aussies were watching," he said. "She played fantastically."

Fellow Australian Lleyton Hewitt, the 18-year-old who reached the semi- finals of the Stella Artois Championship at Queen's and the quarter-finals of the Nottingham Open, continued his grand British tour with a 6-2, 6- 2, 6-1 win over Uruguay's Marcelo Filippini. His time at Wimbledon so far has not been without cost, however.

On Sunday Hewitt, who is still somewhat open mouthed at rubbing shoulders with Sampras, Becker and Co, had the choice of watching his fellow-countrymen win the cricket World Cup or practise with a hero.

"I couldn't say no to hitting with Andre Agassi," he said somewhat shamefacedly. "At 18 you'll be wanting to get Sampras, Agassi or Rafter's autograph and I'm out there practising and competing with them."

You suspect he fears the pinch that will jolt him out of a pleasant dream.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the third seed, appeared to be in a precarious position when he resumed his match on Court One with Magnus Larsson at 5-5 in the deciding set. Five minutes and 10 points later the Russian was securely in the second round after a 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 4-6, 7-5 victory.

The Court One match had been interrupted at 5-5 in the fifth set on Monday evening, after three hours 20 minutes of play, because of fast-fading light.

Kafelnikov, who was the world's top-ranked player until nine days ago, was in no mood to hang around when the pair returned, holding serve to love and then breaking Larsson on his second match-point when the Swede put a forehand out.

The former champion Andre Agassi opened his Wimbledon account in style by sweeping aside the Romanian Andrei Pavel 6-1 6-2 6-3 in their first- round match.

The American, who hopes to become the first man since 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year, hardly put a foot wrong on Centre Court, as the form that took him to the French Open title earlier this month continued on grass.

Agassi, who won Wimbledon in 1992, broke early in each set and, by the third, he was even daring to abandon his standard baseline game to serve and volley.

Pavel, who is ranked No 52 in the world, broke the 29-year-old in the eighth game of the third set and raised his arms aloft in a light-hearted salute.

His relief did not last long, however. Agassi broke back to secure the match and he faces the Argentinian, Guillermo Canas, in the second round.

"It's hard not to be confident," said Agassi, who said he had not had time for his French Open victory at Roland Garros victory to sink in. "But it's not easy to stay focused if you allow yourself to be distracted by other achievements."

The 1996 champion, the Dutchman Richard Krajicek, seeded fifth, hit 20 aces and swept past the Norwegian Christian Ruud, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.

The American Todd Martin, the No 8 seed, beat Hendrik Dreekmann of Germany 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 after losing tie-breaks in the first two sets.

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