WIMBLEDON, England, AP
Monica Seles dropped her first set in nine matches against Ai Sugiyama but rallied to win Saturday and advance to the fourth round at Wimbledon.
The fourth-seeded Seles, who had beaten Sugiyama in straight sets in their previous eight matches, struggled to pull out a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory in 1 hour, 37 minutes on Court 1.
Seles is making her ninth appearance at Wimbledon, where she lost in the 1992 final to Steffi Graf but hasn’t been past the quarterfinals since.
Seles was way off her game in the first set, committing 16 unforced errors. After breaking Seles for a 4-3 lead, Sugiyama served out the set three games later.
The Japanese player double-faulted on her first set point, but ripped a cross-court backhand winner on the second to win her first set off Seles after 16 previous attempts.
Seles settled down and ran off the next set in 27 minutes. She then went up 5-2 in the third before stalling. Serving for the match, Seles was broken at love by Sugiyama, who held in the next game for 5-4. But Seles served out the match this time, finishing with a backhand winner.
Seles will next face Thailand’s Tamarine Tanasugarn, who beat Melien Tu of the United States 6-2, 3-6, 6-0.
In early men’s play, Spain’s Feliciano Lopez — who saved a total of seven match points in his first two matches — beat 17th-seeded Rainer Schuettler of Germany 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-4. Schuettler’s defeat means 14 of the top 17 in the men’s seedings have been eliminated in the first week.
Lopez will next play Andre Sa, who downed Flavio Saretta 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 in only the third all-Brazilian Grand Slam match in the Open era. It’s the furthest that Sa, ranked 90, has ever gone in a Grand Slam.
Britain’s Greg Rusedski, who is becoming many peoples’ tip to be the next Wimbledon champion, further strengthened his credentials here on Friday with straight sets destruction of American hope Andy Roddick in just 85 minutes.
Rusedski, seeded 23, crushed both the game and confidence of the 19-year-old Roddick, seeded 11, in front of an admiring Centre Court crowd winning 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to set up a clash with improving Belgian Xavier Malisse for a place in the quarter finals.
Malisse had earlier knocked out fifth seed and former French and Australian Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
Rusedski said he was happy that most people were looking at British rival Tim Henman to deliver the first Wimbledon crown for the home nation since Fred Perry in 1936, preferring to make his way quietly through the draw.
“I think I’m improving and getting better and I have been working hard on my returns and backhands. I think from the first match to this one I have been getting better.
“My backhand is not a weakness anymore – I feel I can make shots on it and it’s very solid.
“This has been a crazy tournament and all the attention has been on the seeds going out so I’m happy to be playing and taking it one day at a time.”
Although Rusedski is refusing to get carried away by his chances, the 28-year-old knows full well that he is in a bottom half draw in which Kafelnikov isn’t the only big name to drop out of. Second seed Marat Safin and former champions Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras have also suffered early exits.
In fact Kafelnikov even tipped Rusedski to have a better chance of making it to the final than fourth seed Henman who is in the top half of the draw where world number one Lleyton Hewitt still lurks.
“Greg has a golden opportunity and he has got to take it if he wants to put his name up there on the wall with all the other great players,” said the respected Russian.
“This could be his year and I think he has a better chance than Henman because there is no expectation on him.
“All the media focus is on Henman while Rusedski has stayed in the shadows. Greg will present Malisse with a lot more problems than I did because he can put so much pressure on the first and second serve.
“If he keeps playing like he’s playing now, there aren’t too many who can live with him,” added Kafelnikov who thinks that Henman’s run could hit trouble in his third round encounter with veteran South African Wayne Ferreira on Saturday.
“There is a huge expectation on his shoulders and when he sees the headlines in the newspapers it affects you mentally when you go on the court,” said the Russian.
“He has to approach the match like it is the final because Ferreira is a very difficult opponent.”