Rios sparks home fury

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The Independent Online

Marcelo Rios has been unceremoniously knocked out of the opening round of his home tournament for the third year running, losing 6-4, 7-6 to the Argentinian Mariano Zabaleta amid angry scenes in Vina Del Mar.

Zabaleta was showered with plastic bottles from the crowd after beating the local hero on Tuesday night to move into the second round of the first clay-court event of the season.

Playing in his first tournament since reaching the quarter-finals at the Australian Open last month, Rios was unable to find any consistency at the event in which he was runner-up from 1995-97. Showing only occasional flashes of brilliance, the Chilean who was seeded fourth, was outlasted by the steadier, more solid Zabaleta.

"It is very difficult to play when you are not at your best," a disappointed Rios said afterwards. "Zabaleta only needed to put the ball in the court and I made so many mistakes I could not win the points."

Seeded second last year, Rios lost his opening match to the Moroccan Karim Alami and in 2000, also as second favourite, he was beaten at the first time of asking by the Czech Bohdan Ulihrach.

Earlier, the top seed, Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador, rallied from a set down to beat the Spaniard Jacobo Diaz 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 and advance to the second round. The Spaniard Fernando Vicente extended his first-round winning streak to four tournaments when he defeated the Argentinian Juan Ignacio Chela 6-2, 6-1.

"I thought it would have been a much tougher match, but I realised when I walked on to the court that Chela was not on his game," Vicente said. Previously he has reached the quarter-finals of Doha in the first week of the season and then the second rounds of Auckland and the Australian Open.

Felix Mantilla, of Spain, seeded second, beat the Hungarian Attila Savolt 6-4, 7-5 and will next face Chile's Fernando Gonzalez. The sixth-seeded Gaston Gaudio, of Argentina, defeated the Spaniard David Sanchez 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 while the French qualifier Nicolas Coutleot beat Marcos Daniel, of Brazil, 6-4, 6-4.

Fresh from his disappointment in the Davis Cup, Tim Henman has been forced to withdraw from the International Series event in Marseilles because of illness. Henman, eighth in the ATP Champions Race, was drawn to play the local wild card Nicolas Mahut yesterday but pulled out in the morning with a stomach virus.

"I started coming down with something on Sunday evening," Henman said. "It felt a little bit better on Monday, but I had to spend all day on Tuesday in bed and didn't feel any better this morning." Henman is the second seed to withdraw from the event after the Swiss player Roger Federer was forced out with a hamstring injury.

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