Hewitt, Kuerten lead exodus of seeds in Rome
ROME: Triple French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten and Australian top-seed Lleyton Hewitt tumbled to defeat to lead an exodus of seeds out of the $ 2.8 million Masters Series tournament here Wednesday.
Hewitt was beaten in straight sets by Spain’s Carlos Moya while second-seeded Brazilian Kuerten also bit the dust, going down to unheralded Spaniard Albert Montanes. Their defeats mean that the top six seeds have all exited in the first or second rounds, leaving Germany’s Tommy Haas as the highest ranked player still in contention.
Former French Open champion Moya proved too hot to handle for reigning US Open champion Hewitt, winning 6-3, 6-2 on centre court at the Foro Italico. Hewitt admitted he had not managed to get his act together on clay ahead of the French Open in Paris later this month.
“It was not a great move forward for the French Open,” admitted the Australian who was deducted a point after a spat with the umpire. “But I don’t see why I can’t go back to the drawing board, play a lot better in Hamburg, take a week off practicing and be really competitive in Paris.”
As well as Hewitt and Kuerten, there were defeats for defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain and Russian duo Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin.
Montanes fully deserved his famous scalp, silencing the vociferous fans of Kuerten to prevail 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. Kuerten said the match would have no bearing on his performance at Roland Garros, saying: “I am taking it slowly but I am definitely going to be better in the French.”
Ferrero’s title defence ended at the second-round stage with a 7-5, 6-2 beating by Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic who next faces 14th-ranked Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic who avoided the seed cull by seeing off big-serving Australian Mark Philippousis. Minutes earlier Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov had come a cropper at the hands of South African journeyman Wayne Ferreira who ground out a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 triumph over the former French and Australian Open champion.
Safin’s 6-3, 6-4 reverse at the hands of Belgium’s Xavier Malisse ensured - with Briton Tim Henman’s first-round exit - that the top six seeds are all out. However, not all the seeds fared badly with American Andre Agassi particularly impressive as he spanked Switzerland’s Michel Kratochvil of Switzerland 6-0, 6-1 in just 43 minutes - the quickest match of the year so far. The ninth-seeded American roared into a 6-0, 5-0 lead and then took his foot off the pedal as his opponent notched up his only game of the match.
Kratochvil smiled at Agassi as he won that game but the American later denied that he had allowed his opponent to save face and avoid a whitewash. “No, he played a good game,” said Agassi. “He played four winners in that game.”Agassi however served out for a convincing scoreline to set up a clash with Argentina’s Agustin Calleri who dispatched France’s Arnaud Clement. If Agassi, who has never won in Rome, made it look easy then France’s Sebastien Grosjean took the scenic route on the way to his 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 win over Argentina’s David Nalbandian, saving a clutch of match points before prevailing.
The 10th seed will next meet seventh-seeded Haas who demolished another Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela 7-5, 6-1. Earlier American prospect Andy Roddick became the first player to reach the third round, coming back to beat Romania’s Andrei Pavel.
The 13th seed came back to see off Pavel 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a match that had been delayed by rain. Roddick, who got better and better as the match went on, will face Ferreira. Admitting he had started badly by losing the first five games, Roddick said: “I didn’t go nuts which is positive. I kept my head which was a nice surprise.” —AFP