DOHA: Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the former world number one who abandoned retirement plans after helping Russia to win the Davis Cup for the first time, may be regretting having changed his mind.
On Tuesday, Kafelnikov’s first match since the triumph in Paris six weeks ago brought him a straight sets defeat in the first round of the US$1 million Qatar Open against a player to whom he had never previously lost.
This was world number 58 from Spain, Fernando Vicente, who saved two points to avoid a 1-5 deficit in the second set before winning 6-2, 7-5 against the enigmatic fourth seed.
Vicente’s victory hinged greatly around his footwork and his forehand, which he hit ferociously from all parts of the court, even occasionally from the backhand tramlines.
A bigger factor though was Kafelnikov’s strangely fluctuating confidence, which was at a low ebb in the first set, but then suddenly returned in full flood for a while in the second.
Even he was surprised when it once again evaporated after he missed his chances for a double break of serve, but Kafelnikov is still not certain how much longer he will play on following last month’s operation on a varicose vein.
“The best case is that I will make a full recovery, but the worst case is that I will always have pain with it and then I will stop playing,” Kafelnikov said.
“I have not made a full commitment and I will have to wait and see if there are any side effects. I am taking each tournament one at a time.
“If I carry on I have to decide what I want to win. I think my days of glory in the Davis Cup are over – we had a player who substituted for me (Mikhail Youzhny) very well, and I will have to look for other things to accomplish.”
Kafelnikov will however now travel to Melbourne and hopes to continue improving his fitness before the Australian Open starting in just under two weeks.
Roger Federer, the top seed in an ATP Tour event for the first time, was unconvincing too. He only survived 6-2, 6-7, 6-4 against Andrei Stoliarov, a Russian who made the main draw as a lucky loser after Greg Rusedski withdrew.
Stoliarov was also an unlucky loser, because although he played excellently, he had trouble with his back which required on-court treatment during a final set whose outcome remained in doubt till the end.
Another seed to go out was the seventh, Nicolas Escude. The hero of France’s 2001 Davis Cup triumph was beaten 7-6, 6-2 by Stefan Koubek, the world number 57 from Austria.
However, the second seed, Albert Costa won well and says he feels he is ready to emulate the other Spanish clay court experts, Alex Corretja and Juan Carlos Ferrero, and win his first title on a hardcourt.
The French Open champion’s victory came by 6-3, 6-4 against the hard-hitting Italian, Andrea Gaudenzi with both men showing the ability to attack effectively on a faster surface. The only sour note of an exhilarating contest was when Gaudenzi got a code violation for smashing his racquet against his foot, somehow escaping injury in the process.
CHENNAI: Asian tennis star Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand and fit-again Mark Philippoussis of Australia made flying starts in the season-opening ATP Indian Open here on Tuesday.
Paradorn, who jumped more than a 100 places to finish the previous season ranked world number 16, continued the same form as he whipped Jan Vacek of the Czech Republic in straight sets.
The 23-year-old Thai, seeded second in the US$400,000 event here after being runners-up last year, won 7-5, 6-2.
Philippoussis, returning to the circuit after a four-month lay-off due to a knee injury sustained during the US Open in August, defeated qualifier Michael Kohlmann of Germany 7-6 (7-3), 6-3. – Agencies