For once, Gustavo Kuerten was not staring at the floor, a picture of despondency and angst. That was curious, for the Brazilian had just lost in straight sets to Paradorn Srichaphan.
Kuerten has made so many early exits from the Australian Open that he believed himself jinxed. In the past, he looked like a man who, on leaving Melbourne, should be placed on 24-hour suicide watch. But yesterday was different. Not only did he play in the third round for the first time, but he was ousted by a man who was unbeatable on the day. He was happy with his own form. Defeat had inspired, not crushed him.
The three-times French Open champion and former world No 1 is slowly climbing back up the rankings after plunging to No 36 in 2002 following surgery. Just as importantly, after wrestling with his demons, he is rediscovering his confidence. "I hoped for a better result, but I played a guy on a day when he couldn't miss a ball," the No 19 seed said. "He played almost two hours of perfect tennis.
"He was hitting winners from every spot on the court. Everything I did, he came up with something better. But for me, it was a great game. I feel I played well. I feel like I'm getting really close to the best guys around. I feel like I'm getting better physically and mentally, and that it's just a question of time before I'm back on track and playing my best tennis at the Grand Slams."
Srichaphan was delighted with his 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory. The 24-year-old Thai player and No 13 seed said: "I felt really good out there. I was moving well, hitting the ball well, holding my serve quite well."
He faces a tough fourth-round opponent in Andre Agassi, who made brief work of Thomas Enqvist, dismissing him 6-0, 6-3, 6-3 in 89 minutes. Agassi, the defending champion and No 4 seed, said: "I was really hitting the ball well. I wasn't making a lot of errors. I was running down a lot of his shots."
If Agassi was formidable, then Andy Roddick, the top seed, was fearsome, disposing of his friend and countryman, Taylor Dent, in a manner so swift and brutal that it was excruciating to watch. "That was definitely, without question, the worst tennis experience of my life," a shaken Dent said after going down 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 in 71 minutes. "It was absolutely embarrassing. I wasn't tanking out there, I was busting my butt. I'll have to do some soul-searching. This is going to sting for a while."
The night match on Rod Laver Arena had been billed as the battle of the hard hitters, two young Americans fighting for every point. But Dent went to pieces early on, impotent in the face of Roddick's power and lightning speed. There were cat-calls from the crowd, and the No 27 seed earned a code violation for smashing a ball out of the arena after one of his 11 double-faults.
One woman shouted at Dent: "Come on, Taylor, give him a game, I paid good money for these seats." He replied: "It's costing me a lot of pride to stay out here."
The United States Open champion broke serve eight times and won 12 consecutives games from 2-2 in the first set. "He didn't have his best night, and I played pretty well," said Roddick, who next meets Sjeng Schalken.
Also through to the fourth round are Roddick's compatriots James Blake and Robby Ginepri, who will play, respectively, Marat Safin and Sébastien Grosjean.
In the women's competition, Lindsay Davenport thrashed her fellow American, Laura Granville, 6-4, 6-0, and then promptly wrote off her chances of winning the title.
Davenport, a former Australian Open champion, was furious with herself for having to fight back from 1-4 and 0-40 down in the first set. "I made a ton of unforced errors in the first four to five games," said the No 5 seed, who will play the Russian Vera Zvonareva for a place in the quarter-finals. "I can't afford to keep going through patches like that.
"Justine [Henin-Hardenne] and Kim [Clijsters] have proven over the last 12 months - same with Venus [Williams] - they're really contending for these titles. I'm going to have to do something that I haven't done in the last year or two to be able to be in the top two or three contenders.
"I definitely should be a little bit under the radar, but for a good reason," Davenport added. "Right now, I haven't won a Slam in four years."
Henin-Hardenne, the top seed, was marginally stretched during her 6-2, 7-5 defeat of the Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova. Afterwards she refused to be dragged into an argument about the relative merits of the women's and men's games, sparked by comments in an Australian newspaper by Brad Gilbert, Roddick's coach.
Gilbert claimed that Henin-Hardenne would be unable to beat even the 1,000th-ranked male player. Asked for her views, she replied: "I don't care too much about this, because we're not here to compare men's tennis with women's tennis. It's totally different, our bodies are totally different."
The Belgian will meet Mara Santangelo, of Italy, in the fourth round. Amélie Mauresmo, the French No 4 seed, who beat Anabel Medina Garrigues, of Spain, 6-1, 6-2, will play Australia's Alicia Molik.Reuse content