Down to business
Davenport ousts troubled Dokic; Sampras, Safin, Agassi advance
Updated: Monday January 15, 2001 11:01 AM
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Pete Sampras punched in a few more volleys than Karol Kucera hit passing shots. Lindsay Davenport served her way out of trouble. Marat Safin had to rely on finesse rather than power.
All survived tough first-round matches at the Australian Open on Monday.
Sampras faced 17 break points in his 3-hour, 17-minute match as he watched shot after shot zip past him while charging the net. He finally prevailed 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3) over Kucera, who beat him here in the 1998 quarterfinals.
Defending women's champion Davenport pounded five aces and a service winner in her last two service games for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Jelena Dokic, a semifinalist last year at Wimbledon and the Olympics. Dokic faced some hostile reaction from the home crowd for her weekend decision to change nationality from Australian to Yugoslav.
U.S. Open champion Safin gained a key third-set service break with a short slice, a drop shot and a winning lob, and then set up match point with a delicate volley as he beat Spain's Galo Blanco 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5).
In other first-round matches, Andre Agassi and Patrick Rafter were among the men who advanced. On the women's side, Monica Seles, Conchita Martinez, Anna Kournikova and Jennifer Capriati got to the second round.
Sampras, seeking his 14th Grand Slam tournament title, did not finish play until 12:38 a.m. Tuesday, after 307 points. He won 157 to Kucera's 150, and converted two of five break points to Kucera's three for 17.
In the final set tiebreaker, a double fault and half-volley miss by Kucera gave him match point, and the No. 3 seed put away a sharply angled forehand volley. Only about 2,000 spectators remained in the 15,000-seat Rod Laver Arena.
Sampras said it was the toughest first round he had faced in an Australian Open, and "it's not easy on the body".
"I had to withstand a barrage of great returns, passing shots," Sampras said. "The way he moves and passes on the run, it's some of the best I've seen."
Kucera blamed a lack of match practice for his inability to seize his break-point chances.
"It was a pity it was the first round," he said.
Aces "really pulled me through," said the second-seeded Davenport, who had nine in all.
"It seems like maybe I didn't get enough depth on the ball sometimes, but a couple of times when I did she would hit it up the line really hard."
"Win it for Australia, Lindsay," one spectator shouted to the American in the last game.
The 17-year-old Dokic, born in Yugoslavia but an Australian resident the last six years, has accused Australian tennis officials and the media of treating her family badly. On the eve of the Open, she demanded to be listed in the lineup as Yugoslavian, rather than Australian.
Her father, Damir, said before the match that despite the outcome, Dokic would quit the tournament immediately following the match and leave the country. He contended that the draw pitting Dokic against the defending champion in the first round was rigged against his daughter.
However, Dokic remained focused on the court and kept Davenport on the run with hard, deep shots and gained a key service break in the 10th game by forcing errors.
In the second set, Davenport broke in the third game and then put the set away with two aces.
More heavy serving put her ahead 5-3 in the final set. Dokic badly missed with a drop shot attempt at deuce in the last game, and then netted two shots.
Dokic said she had expected the crowd to be much harder on her.
"They clapped my good points and her good points," Dokic said. "I think it's always going to be tough playing Lindsay because she's a crowd favorite everywhere. To get close to the No. 2 player in the world feels really good."
Dokic said she was not aware of her father's comment about withdrawing, and she still planned to play doubles and mixed doubles. But she said that after the tournament she will live in Yugoslavia and the United States.
Safin said Blanco "was playing unbelievable tennis. I was very lucky. In some important moments, I played very good."
The 20-year-old Russian also showed no signs of an elbow injury that hampered his serve in a match last week. He served 11 aces at speeds up to 209 kph (131 mph).
"For the moment, it is OK. I can serve and I'm really satisfied," said Safin, who went out in the first round at last year's Australian and was fined US$2,000 for tanking. He was ranked No. 2 in the rankings at the end of the year.
On his way to his second service break of the second set, Blanco sprinted back for a lob and hit a sharply angled passing shot between his legs.
Safin broke in the third set's sixth game, but was immediately broken back. He was warned for a code violation when he broke his racket after netting a backhand on game point.
After winning the set with his touch shots, Safin was unable to cash in two match points with Blanco serving at 4-5 in the fourth.
In the tiebreaker, he reached 6-3 with a soft cross-court volley and, three points later, finished the 2-hour, 47-minute match with a forehand blast that Blanco could only push back into the net.
In the last eight years, Sampras and Agassi each have gone on twice from U.S. Open victories to Australian Open titles. Safin believes he can do it too.
"I have enough game, I have enough power -- I have everything to win a Grand Slam tournament," he said.
Agassi, the defending champion, encountered few problems in his first-round match. Agassi, seeded sixth, needed just 1 hour, 40 minutes to beat Czech player Jiri Vanek 6-0, 7-5, 6-3.
Rafter, seeded 12th, beat fellow Australian Scott Draper 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
No. 8 Tim Henman defeated Morocco's Hicham Arazi, a quarterfinalist last year, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-4. No. 9 Juan Carlos Ferrero beat Australian Alun Jones 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-2, and No. 13 Cedric Pioline beat Italy's Davide Sanguinetti 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-2.
No. 14 Dominik Hrbaty, plagued by early errors, had to struggle from two sets down for a 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 victory in 2 1-2 hours over French qualifier Jean-Rene Lisnard.
In the tournament's first match in the new Vodafone Arena, Melbourne Park's second stadium with a retractable roof, Brie Rippner stumbled and sprained her left ankle five minutes into her match with Seles.
She had to retire against Seles, a four-time champion and the women's No. 4 seed, leading 1-0, 0-15. The quick result gave Seles more time to recover from a virus that has left her feeling weak.
American Chanda Rubin, No. 11, was the first seeded player to lose. Slovakia's Janette Husarova beat her 6-3, 6-0.
No. 5 Martinez, a semifinalist here last year and finalist at the French Open, defeated Australian Christina Wheeler 6-1, 6-1.
No. 12 Capriati, also a semifinalist last year, pulled out a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Slovakia's Henrieta Nagyova.
Kournikova, No. 8, defeated Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 6-2, 7-5; No. 14 Sandrine Testud beat Spain's Maria Antonia Sanchez Lorenzo 6-1, 6-0; and No. 15 Kim Clijsters defeated Germany's Anca Barna 6-3, 6-2.