- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) With his rivals hobbling and aching, Pete Sampras' chances for another Grand Slam title are looking better.

The second round of the Australian Open starts with the first three seeded men missing the first time that has happened in any Grand Slam event.

Lleyton Hewitt, who rose to No. 1 last year after beating Sampras for the U.S. Open title and then winning the Masters Cup, lost yesterday to Spain's Alberto Martin 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4).

Still drained from his bout with chicken pox, the 20-year-old Aussie said he would not have played if this had been anything but a Grand Slam.

Never before had a top-seeded player lost in this tournament's first round. The last time it happened at any Grand Slam event was 1990, when Alexander Volkov beat Stefan Edberg.

No. 2 Gustavo Kuerten lost Monday to France's Julien Boutter, and said a long-standing hip injury hobbled him in the late sets. No. 3 Andre Agassi, the champion in 2000 and 2001 and holder of seven Grand Slam titles, withdrew before the start to avoid further hurting his wrist.

Sampras, who has a men's record 13 Grand Slam singles titles, is seeded No. 8 after a year in which he didn't win any tournaments, something that last happened in 1989.

But he has been training harder, feeling fresh and playing well in his last two matches an exhibition victory over Agassi on Saturday and a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win over Finland's Jarkko Nieminen in his Australian opener yesterday.

"I am one of the favorites," he said. "I still feel like when I get the game going I'm one of the tough guys to beat."

Speaking before Hewitt's loss, Sampras said, "I think Lleyton is a heavy favorite and I think I'm in that league."

His recent two months of heavy training followed his disappointment at coming up short in the U.S. Open after beating Patrick Rafter, Agassi and 2000 champion Marat Safin on his way to the final.

"You are different at 30 than 20," he said, "so you need to step up the training, … and hopefully it will pay off this week."

Hewitt said he had hoped to survive his first few matches without expending much energy.

"If I was covered in spots and still couldn't go near anyone, then I wouldn't have played, but I was pretty much going to walk out on the court no matter how bad I was feeling," he said.

"It is the Australian Open, it is a Grand Slam, one of the biggest tournaments for me in the whole year," Hewitt added.

Hewitt said he had hoped to quickly dispose of Martin, who previously had won only one match in four Australian Opens. But after he took the first set 6-1, "I felt like I hit a wall."

In a match that lasted 3 hours, 33 minutes, he looked as if he might turn things around when he broke for 2-1 and then 3-2 in the fourth set. But Martin broke back twice and evened it at 4-4.

The Australian led 3-0 in the tiebreaker, but fell behind 5-4 when Martin sent him back with a lob and then put away an overhead. At that point, Martin called for the trainer to treat leg cramps.

Hewitt called the timing of the timeout unfair and ended up hitting a backhand out and a forehand into the net.

"The rules are the rules," Martin replied. He noted that Hewitt called for the trainer earlier in the set.

Hewitt had been his nation's best hope for its first Australian champion at this event since Mark Edmondson in 1976. But he said he did not feel pressured by those expectations.

A dangerous player still in Sampras' section of the draw is No. 13 Andy Roddick. He beat Sampras in Miami last March and extended Hewitt to five sets before losing in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

Roddick advanced Tuesday night by beating Mariano Zabaleta 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3, and also had injury problems. He said he turned an ankle but did not express serious worry, although he left immediately to have it examined.

Also in the same section is Safin, a 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 winner over France's Anthony Dupuis.

No. 15 Arnaud Clement, who lost to Agassi in last year's final, advanced with a 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over Brazil's Flavio Saretta. Todd Martin, a quarterfinalist last year, beat another Brazilian, Andre Sa, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.

American qualifier Mardy Fish ousted No. 20 Fabrice Santoro 6-2, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1. No. 11 Roger Federer won 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 over Michael Chang, who has fallen to No. 94 from No. 2 in 1996, when he was runner-up in the Australian and U.S. Opens.

Although No. 5 Serena Williams dropped out with an ankle injury last Friday, the other highly seeded women advanced.

Beginning defense of her first Grand Slam title, No. 1 Jennifer Capriati needed slightly more than an hour to beat Silvija Talaja 6-4, 6-1.

No. 4 Kim Clijsters, last year's French Open runner-up to Capriati, breezed past Australia's Christina Wheeler 6-2, 6-1, and Belgian compatriot Justine Henin, seeded No. 6, beat Anna Kournikova 6-2, 7-5.

No. 10 Meghann Shaughnessy outlasted American compatriot Alexandra Stevenson 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-5. At a warmup tournament in Sydney last week, Stevenson beat Capriati.

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