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Not this time

Defending champ Norman stunned in Rome

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Posted: Monday May 07, 2001 11:14 AM
Updated: Monday May 07, 2001 2:44 PM
  Magnus Norman Magnus Norman fell in straight sets to Vincenzo Santopadre 6-4, 6-3. AP

ROME (AP) -- Battling a bruised self confidence, Magnus Norman was knocked out of the Italian Open in the first round Monday, a year after collecting his biggest career tournament win on the same Foro Italico courts.

The 24-year-old Swede lost 6-4, 6-3 to 180th-ranked Vincenzo Santopadre of Italy.

Norman, who reached last year's French Open finals, looked slow and unsteady on the damp clay, racking up 30 unforced errors following a two-hour rain delay.

Having struggled in recent months, Norman was asked if he was suffering physical or technical problems. "No," he said flatly, "it's more in my head."

"This is one of the worst moments of my career," the No. 5 seed added. "It's a self-confidence thing. It's tough, I don't know how to come out of it."

Racking up 30 unforced errors, Norman was broken in the final game, shanking an easy backhand on match point.

Santopadre, a wild card entry, fired 24 winners in front of the sparse but friendly Foro Italico crowd. After watching the final shot go wide, the left-handed Italian jumped over the net to shake Norman's hand.

Santopadre won the only other head-to-head showdown with Norman in a 1998 match on clay in Bournemouth, England.

"I knew I had to keep him from playing his game," said the 30-year-old Italian. "Otherwise, he can be deadly."

But after reaching the finals of the Sydney tournament in January, Norman has let his opponents get the better of him. The Swede has not managed to get past the second round in the last five tournaments he's entered.

Last year, Norman was ontop of his game in Rome, beating Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten in four sets in the final of the annual Foro Italico affair, and moving to the top of the ATP rankings. That same final matchup was replayed three weeks later when the Brazilian got his revenge with a four-set win for his second French Open crown.

Kuerten, who finished last season atop the men's rankings, is the No. 1 seed at the $2.95 million Italian Open, which he won in 1999. The 24-year-old Brazilian won in Monte Carlo two weeks ago, but has been battling a nagging thigh injury that forced him to pull out of the Barcelona tournament last week.

The world's current No. 1, American Andre Agassi, is also part of an impressive field that includes all but two of the top 20 players.

In other opening day matches, No. 9 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain beat Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands 6-3, 7-5, France's Fabrice Santoro downed Romania's Adrian Voinea 6-3, 6-4, Greg Rusedski of Britain beat David Prinosil of Germany 6-3, 6-2 and Sweden's Andreas Vinciguerra rolled over Fernando Meligeni of Brazil 6-2, 6-0.

Two further rain delays caused the suspension of several matches until Tuesday. Israel's Harel Levy led Pete Sampras 7-5, 1-3.

Again searching for a treasured second French title, Agassi is still looking for his first career crown in Rome.

A five-set loss in the 1989 finals to Argentina's Alberto Mancini is as close as Agassi has ever come to an Italian Open title.

Agassi's 1999 French title lifted the weight of clay from the American's mind, completing his career Grand Slam.

But last year's third-round exit in Rome -- and subsequent withdrawal in Paris with a hip injury -- was more typical for the American star, who again will be making his season debut on European clay Monday in Italy.

Agassi captured the top three tournaments of 2001 -- including his third Australian Open.

Continuing the new format established last year, the men's event in Rome, part of the Masters Series, is preceding the women's $1.08 million event, which opens May 14. Top entries include Martina Hingis of Switzerland, Jennifer Capriati of the United States, and last year's winner, American Monica Seles.

Venus Williams, who won Sunday in Hamburg, will skip the Rome tournament. Organizers said Monday that younger sister, Serena Williams, listed as the No. 4 seed, will also miss the competition with a knee injury.

Related information
Tennis Masters Series - Rome Results
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