Conquered in Rome
Agassi, Sampras upset in openers
Updated: Tuesday May 08, 2001 9:01 PM
ROME (AP) -- All three American seeds wilted quickly in the clay of the Italian Open.
Sampras fell first early Tuesday. The 29-year-old American holding the tournament's fourth seed was overmatched by Israel's Harel Levy, who completed the 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 victory over his "idol" that began Monday before a rain suspension.
Sampras, winner at Foro Italico in 1994 is still missing a French Open title from his crowded trophy case. And in his first clay-court match of the season, the serve-and-volley specialist showed no signs that 2001 will be his year for finally conquering Roland Garros. "Anything not on clay is more natural for me," he said. "I'm so used to dictating the game with my power and serve, here it's more of a thinking man's game."
The seven-time Wimbledon champion missed another French open warm-up in Monte Carlo due to a viral infection, which he attributed to too much training. "I've been training a lot, running a lot to prepare for five-set matches at the French," Sampras said. "It's disappointing to lose right away. You really need to get in a lot of matches."
Agassi, who has never won in Rome, followed on the shuffling heels of Sampras' center-court exit by losing 6-3, 6-3 to Spain's Alex Calatrava in just 69 minutes.
Despite his performance, riddled with 35 unforced errors, the third-seeded American said that he felt comfortable in his first European clay match of the season.
"It wasn't a good day but it wasn't a bad one either," he said. "I felt like I would work the point and work the point, hitting five or six good shots, and then miss the last. The problem was shot selection," said Agassi.
As far as his preparation for the clay season, the 1999 Roland Garros champion said he has been working on his strokes back in the States.
"But it's always different getting on the red brick in Europe. There's no way of preparing for it except to be over here," he said.
The No. 14 Gambill also went quietly, losing to Argentina's Guillermo Coria, 7-5, 6-4.
Gustavo Kuerten, the tournament's first seed, managed to survive the first round. The wiry Brazilian ran into Ivan Ljubicic, a strong and precise hitting Croatian, and needed to pull out his best game.
The reigning French Open champion was forced to paint the lines and scramble to drop shots in order to advance in a 6-7, 7-5, 6-4 victory.
"It's a big surprise for sure," said Kuerten of the American losses. "For me it is not so important because I don't play them in these early rounds. But for the tournament it is not so nice."
No. 2 seed Russian Marat Safin beat Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
Kuerten, who finished last season atop the men's rankings after winning his second French title, is favored at the dlrs 2.95 million Italian Open, which is part of the Masters Series.
In other action Tuesday, Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov advanced in his first-round match when Romania's Andrei Pavel withdrew in the second set with back problems. Kafelnikov, the No. 5 seed, was leading 7-5, 3-1, when Pavel pulled out.
South Africa's Wayne Ferreira knocked off No. 16 Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia, 6-2, 6-4.
Also advancing was 10th-seed Alex Corretja of Spain, coming back from a set down to beat countryman Carlos Moya 5-7, 7-5, 6-1. Other seeds to advance included Australia's Lleyton Hewitt (7), Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero (8), Britain's Tim Henman (9) and Argentina's Franco Squillari (15).
Chilean Marcelo Rios beat Italian Davide Sanguinetti 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
One American who did advance was Michael Chang, while countryman Todd Martin was knocked out in straight sets by France's Julien Boutter.