Philippoussis' destruction increases hosts' sense of doom

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The Independent Online

A kestrel swooped low over Mark Philippoussis during the final moments of his demolition by Greg Rusedski in the Rod Laver Arena yesterday. "Circling the carcass of Australian tennis," one spectator muttered.

Philippoussis was the final repository of Australian hopes at the home Grand Slam after eight other men were knocked out in the first round. His departure has left the hosts without one of their own in the third round of the tournament for the first time in the Open era.

Things looked very different three days ago, when the Australian Open began with a local as top seed for the first time since Ken Rosewall in 1976. Another Australian, Mark Edmondson, won the men's title that year and Lleyton Hewitt was favourite to repeat the feat.

Hewitt, though, was weakened by chicken-pox, and he bowed out in the first round, along with his compatriots: Wayne Arthurs, Richard Fromberg, Scott Draper, Todd Larkham, Andrew Ilie, Todd Reid and Jaymon Crabb.

Philippoussis, who was making his Grand Slam comeback after a knee injury kept him out of action for more than a year, said yesterday that he was clearly not yet strong enough to play five-set matches.

Australian tennis is in the doldrums after the departure of Patrick Rafter, the popular twice US Open champion. Rafter has left a gaping hole in the Davis Cup team that Philippoussis may never be able to fill. Hewitt is immensely talented, but appears in danger of burning out.

So dire is the situation that Australia has become embroiled in an unseemly tussle with the United States for the Davis Cup services of Taylor Dent, whose father, Phil, was once Australia's leading player, but who was born and raised in California. Dent, who beat Andreas Vinciguerra, of Sweden, yesterday, said he was leaning towards America but had not yet made up his mind.

While men's seeds have been falling like flies this week, the upper echelons of the women's competition are virtually intact. Monica Seles, the No 8 seed, beat Zimbabwe's Cara Black 6-1, 6-1 yesterday, while Martina Hingis, the No 3, swept aside a German qualifier, Greta Arn, 6-1, 6-2.

"The break did me well," said Hingis, who underwent ankle surgery in October and returned only last week. "I could recover physically and mentally, and just be in the same place for a while relaxing was really nice. I'm never going to be a power junkie, so I have to work on my weapons and before coming here I did a lot of running in the mountains and in the snow and the cold weather."

Venus Williams also advanced to the third round, defeating Kristina Brandi 6-3, 6-4. But a flare-up of tendinitis in her left knee may undermine her hopes of winning a third successive Grand Slam.

"I think my dad might have talked me out of playing, but he's not here," she said after her victory.