Kuerten collapses against qualifier

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The Independent Online

The first upset at the United States Open here came yesterday when Gustavo Kuerten, seeded to meet Andre Agassi in the men's singles final, was eliminated in the opening round by Wayne Arthurs, a 29-year-old Australian qualifier who is based in Pinner, Middlesex.

The first upset at the United States Open here came yesterday when Gustavo Kuerten, seeded to meet Andre Agassi in the men's singles final, was eliminated in the opening round by Wayne Arthurs, a 29-year-old Australian qualifier who is based in Pinner, Middlesex.

Kuerten, the French Open champion, was unable to subdue Arthurs after winning the opening set, and the Australian hit 26 aces in winning 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 7-6. Kuerten saved two match points serving at 5-6 in the fourth set only to lose the concluding tie-break 7-1.

Twenty-three days ago Arthurs won a second title of the year, defeating the Slovakian Ladislav Svarc, 6-2, 6-4 in the final of a Challenger event in Wrexham.

The left-hander from Melbourne's other title this year was a Challenger in Surbiton in May. The son of Derek Arthurs, a former Irish Davis Cup player from Belfast, Arthurs gained minor prominence at Wimbledon last year when he reached the fourth round, eventually losing to Andre Agassi, 6-7, 7-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Kuerten, who attempted to take Arthurs' serve from his usual position behind the baseline, acknowledged that the deliveries were "too strong" for him to handle. "I knew I would have a tough match," Kuerten said. "The way he plays is difficult for me. I had eight break points and didn't convert any of them, so maybe I could have won the match three sets to one, too. Things didn't go my way when I really needed it."

Arthurs, while delighted with the result, said he would have been even more thrilled had there still been ATP bonus points on offer for beating a higher-ranked player, a practice that ceased with the introduction of the new rankings system this year.

Having watched Kuerten play Britain's Tim Henman recently, Arthurs was confident that he had the right game to trouble the Brazilian.

"I was struggling in the first set with the depth of the court," he said - not the first player to be taken aback by the size of the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Arthur's victory opened up the lower order of the draw for the likes of Mark Philippoussis and Alex Corretja.

The last No 2 seed to lose in the first round here was Goran Ivanisevic, in 1994. Yesterday, Wimbledon's favourite bridesmaid was so distraught that he spoke of retiring before next month's Olympic Games in Sydney.

In losing his first round match to Dominik Hrbaty, the 28-year-old Ivanisevic gave an almost perfect example of starting well and falling away. He took the opening set and won only one game thereafter. Hrbaty won, 3-6, 6-0, 6-1, 6-0.

"I don't know how I won the first set," Ivanisevic said. "He missed every shot possible. I am so messed up in my head. I am walking around like a lost boy who is on the court for the first time. I don't have fun playing, I can't motivate myself, my shoulder is killing me and needs an operation, and I've become afraid of flying."

Ivanisevic, three times a runner-up in the Wimbledon men's singles final, is due to compete in his fourth Olympics, representing Croatia in both singles and doubles. "But to fly 18 hours and lose in the first round is no fun," said Ivanisevic, who has won only two matches in nearly five months.

Asked if he was afraid of retiring and then wondering what might have been, Ivanisevic said: "Maybe. You should retire when you make a good result after 12 years on the tour. But if I want to play another two years I will have to have a shoulder operation, and then it would be seven or eight months before I play again. I have to do a lot of thinking and decide."

"I don't want to be a loser and say 'okay, now it's finished'. I just want to maybe try one more time, maybe find somebody to kick my ass. Give me some pain, kick me a little bit and maybe I'd wake up. If I cannot wake up then it's best to stop."

Pete Sampras had no sooner won his first match at the US Open for two years, a testing three sets against the Czech Martin Damm, than he was asked if he felt ready to walk off the stage with his 13 grand slam singles titles and make way for a new generation.

"Am I ready to walk off the stage?" the seven-times Wimbledon champion repeated incredulously.

The point of the question concerned the marketing of fresh talent on the men's tour - "New Balls Please" - but it triggered an interesting response. "Maybe I'm not as consumed [with tennis] like I was three or four years ago," Sampras said.

"For years I just wanted to win majors and just wanted to finish the year at No 1. You have to give things up. You don't have a lot of time for outside stuff. Being back in LA, getting married soon, I'm definitely starting a new chapter my life."

Sampras was puckish when asked what had impressed him most about Venus Williams' serve. "I don't think she knows where its going, to be honest with you," was his appraisal of the Wimbledon champions' technique. "She's a tall girl with a big racket, throws it up and hits it hard."

Serena Williams, the defending champion here, who may possibly play her older sister in the final, won her opening, match against Tina Pisnik of Slovakia, 6-3, 6-2.

Lindsay Davenport, seeded No 2 to meet Martina Hingis, the world No 1, in the women's singles final, opened her campaign by swatting Gala Leon Garcia, of Spain, 6-0, 6-1. Davenport, recently recovered from a foot injury, had a back problem and a cold when losing to Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final. "I would say I was probably around 70 per cent fit then," Davenport said.