Davenport steeled for Petrova's tough test

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The Independent Online

A combination of confidence, cortisone, and a comfortable draw has kept Lindsay Davenport one step ahead of Jennifer Capriati as the American women campaign to prevent the United States Open developing into a Belgian finale.

Davenport's damaged left foot has not had to take too much of a pounding on the rubberised concrete courts here so far. The third seed has won her first three matches without dropping a set, completing yesterday's victory against the 93rd-ranked Melinda Czink, of Hungary, 6-0, 6-2, after only 42 minutes.

The going may be about to get tougher for Davenport, the 1998 champion, whose next opponent is Nadia Petrova, of Russia, who has also zipped through three rounds without dropping a set, displaying the form that took her to the French Open semi-finals. Petrova, the 19th seed, swept past the experienced South African Amanda Coetzer yesterday, 6-0, 6-1.

Capriati, the sixth seed, progressed to the third round on Thursday night, defeating Martina Sucha, a Slovakian, ranked No 121, for the loss of only two games. Capriati's next opponent is Emilie Loit, of France, who proved too clever for Maria Shaparova, defeating the 16-year-old Russian prodigy, 6-3, 6-4.

There are "X-Men", but there is only one "Y-Man" - Andre Agassi's nickname for Yevgeny Kafelnikov, of Russia, who is due to play the world No 1 in the third round today. The 33-year-old American, who is attempting to win an eighth grand slam singles title, has been through periods in his amazing career when he has under-performed, either because of injury or lack of motivation.

Yet, Kafelnikov, 29, who announced his retirement before Pete Sampras and then thought better of it, has clocked up more tournaments than anyone else and ought to have more to show for it than two grand slam singles titles. Now ranked 28th, he once rose to be No 1 after losing six consecutive opening round matches.

Having defeated Kafelnikov seven times in 11 previous contests stretching back to Monte Carlo in 1994, Agassi's assessment of the "Y-Man" is spot on: "Had he gone about his career by investing in himself a little bit more, by choosing his tournaments, by trying to peak for the right tournaments, I think he could have accomplished a lot more." Careful not to underestimate the task ahead, Agassi added, "But he's still out there because of his game. He does a lot of things well."

Agassi, who lost to Sampras in last year's final, decided to pace himself en route to Flushing Meadows, this time by withdrawing from the Masters Series tournament in Cincinnati. "I had enough matches over the summer," he said. "It's very important for me to choose my tournaments. I feel pretty good. I feel I've done it right to give myself the best chance."

The younger legs and deep shots of Andreas Vinciguerra tested Agassi in the first set of of their second-round match in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday night. Agassi was pleased to take the set to a tie-break, in which he dismantled the 22-year-old Swedish left-hander, 7-1, proceeding to win, 7-6, 6-1, 6-4.

"I always like love playing here in New York, especially in the night matches," Agassi said. "It's a great atmosphere." Smiling, he added: "The crowd pull you through. For a good stage of my career, if it was going too smoothly, they wanted me too stay out here a little bit longer. After 17 years, they don't want to see a fourth set with me, which is something I appreciate."

Robby Ginepri is one of the "X-Men", a member of the latest generation of Americans striving to make their mark on the game. The 20-year-old from Georgia, ranked No 40, has advanced to a third-round meeting with Todd Martin, a compatriot only three months younger than Agassi, after he defeated Wayne Ferreira.

It appears that we have seen the last of Jeff Tarango, who has announced his retirement at the age of 34. The tempestuous American is best remembered for walking off the court at Wimbledon in 1995 after a row with the French umpire, Bruno Rebeau, who subsequently was slapped by Tarango's wife, Benedicte. No mean player, Tarango won 14 doubles titles.

The 30-year-old Leander Paes, of India, who helped Martina Navratilova equal Billie Jean King's record of 20 Wimbledon titles when they won the mixed-doubles championship in July, is recovering in hospital in Florida after a scan revealed he was not suffering from brain cancer.

"It's a fantastic relief," said Navratilova, who is competing in the women's doubles here. "Leander told me all the different possibilities. I said, 'Well keep our fingers crossed for a bacteria'. That's what it was." She added: "I told Leander whenever he comes back that we'll play again. Hopefully it will be in Australia."