Rafter, Enqvist and Safin book places in the last eight


LONDON, AFP

Swedish 10th seed Thomas Enqvist stands between Aussie third seed Pat Rafter and a place in the semifinals of Wimbledon after the pair skated into the last eight on Monday. They were joined by Russian Marat Safin, who cast aside recent poor form to crush Frenchman Arnaud Clement in straight sets and book a meeting with either Croatian ace machine Goran Ivanisevic or Britain’s Greg Rusedski. Rafter, last year’s beaten finalist and likely playing his last Wimbledon, flunked the opening set but dominated thereafter as the 28-year-old Queenslander avoided the curse of ‘graveyard’ Court Number Two, cranking up his serve and volley game to oust Russian teen Mikhail Youzhny 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. The 2hr 20min win in the pair’s first meeting took Rafter’s career record here to 27-8. Enqvist earlier swamped Guillermo Canas of Argentina 6-3, 6-3, 6-1. In later men’s matches Monday, defending champion Pete Sampras was pitting his wits against Swiss youngster Roger Federer while former champion and second seed Andre Agassi was up against Germany’s Nicolas Kiefer. Rafter had to save two break points in the third game but the next time round Youzhny, ranked 85 in the world, did take his chance, breaking to 15 after scurrying to retrieve a drop shot – and he then held to move 4-2 clear. That proved sufficient for the 19-year-old Russian to pocket the opener in 32min but Rafter, playing in the round of 16 for the sixth straight year, roared back to dominate the next three. But he admitted the bad opening had worried him. “After that I just found a way to break him down and started holding my serve more comfortably,” said Rafter, who added he had struggled in the muggy conditions. “Today I took a few chances and they worked well. I feel my game’s pretty close.” Rafter, who with four grass-court titles has the second best record on the men’s circuit behind 10 for Pete Sampras, his tormentor in last year’s final, opened the second set by holding to love but he was still having difficulty breaking after squandering 11 of his first 14 break points across the match. However, an outstanding volley at the net handed Rafter a break to enable him to open up a 5-3 lead and he duly held to level the tie. In the third set he was even more impressive, rattling through and holding to love. Youzhny gave it everything he’d got in the fourth set, where he moved to 5-4 as Rafter found it difficult to put daylight between them. But aided by a double fault he broke in the 11th game and with the writing on the wall for his inexperienced opponent the Aussie crowd favourite served out to win on his second match point when Youzhny drove into the net. Quiet-man Enqvist will be a tough proposition for Rafter, however, on Monday’s evidence. Like Safin, Enqvist has had a poor year to date but here he was hugely impressive in walloping Canas. Canas, who had shocked seventh seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the third round, was the first Argentine to reach the last 16 of the men’s singles in 22 years, emulating Jose-Luis Clerc, but the 23-year-old from Buenos Aires couldn’t keep up that form and bowed out well beaten. Enqvist, who has 18 Tour titles to his name, survived an early break in the opening set before turning on the heat to roast his opponent and show that his Queens’ Club opening round defeat to qualifier Todd Woodbridge was merely an aberration. He captured the second set much as he had the first and two breaks coupled with five aces were enough to net the third for the 1999 Australian Open finalist. The 27-year-old from Stockholm found himself 15-40 down serving for the match but he shrugged off a double fault to hit two aces before clinching victory when Canas hit a forehand beyond the baseline. Safin, blowing hot and cold in the opening week, meanwhile thrashed Clement 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final since last year’s U.S. Open, which he won. Back problems have hampered the Russian this season and he remains without a title to add to his current crop of eight. Goran Ivanisevic bludgeoned Britain’s Greg Rusedski into submission, powering into the Wimbledon quarter-finals 7-6, 6-4, 6-4. The unseeded Croatian thundered 22 aces past a shell-shocked Rusedski as he booked a last eight place against fourth seed Marat Safin of Russia.