Koubek dumps the champ

DOHA: Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui’s hopes of defending his Qatar Open title lay in tatters yesterday after he lost a tight semi-final battle 7-6, 7-6 to Austria’s Stefan Koubek. 

Koubek will face ninth-seeded American Jan-Michael Gambill, who brushed past Russian Davis Cup hero Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 6-2, in today’s final. 

Both Koubek and American pin-up Gambill will be looking to win their third career singles title. 

Gambill fired seven aces in the match, including five in the second set. Despite Youzhny’s fine start, in which he broke the American in the first game of the match, Gambill relied on precision over power. 

“I knew his strong point is a good baseline game,” Gambill said. “Fortunately, my passing shots and volleying have been very good in this tournament and I was able to control the game today also because of my good returns.” 

Last month, Youzhny overcame a two-set deficit to win the final rubber in the Davis Cup final in France, helping Russia win the trophy for the first time. 

Gambill said he was physically in better shape compared to the start of last year. 

“This year, before the start of the new season, I took a month off in Hawaii,” he said. “I did not hit a single ball there, I did not even go for a run. I just relaxed and took time off to revitalize myself for the new season.” 

On Thursday, Gambill beat top seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland in the quarter-finals. 

CHENNAI: Argentine top seed Guillermo Canas’s hopes of defending his Indian Open title were dashed after he was beaten 6-1, 7-5 by Slovakia’s Karol Kucera yesterday. 

Kucera, a former top-10 player who had lost to Canas in the semi-finals here last year, breezed into the last-four by trashing the world’s 15th-ranked player in under two hours. 

Sixth-seeded German Rainer Schuettler was also bundled out 6-2, 7-5 by Frenchman Jean-Rene Lisnard. 

But Lisnard will have his hands full in the semis when he plays second-seeded Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand. 

Paradorn, named “Thai of the Year” ahead of several pop stars and politicians by a survey in his country last month, used his powerful serve-and-volley game to beat Armenia’s Sargis Sargsian 6-4, 6-4. 

“I’m playing well at the start of the year, which is great. I’ve got another tough match tomorrow in the semi-finals and I just want to go out and do my best,” said the 16th-ranked Thai, who was a finalist here in 2002. 

Kucera will take on another Argentine, fourth seed Juan Ignacio Chela, a 6-4, 6-3 winner over German qualifier Tomas Behrend. 

Kucera looked back at his best at the Nungambakkam Stadium as he broke Canas early in the match. Hitting big baseline shots that angled deep into Canas’s forehand, he raced to a 4-0 lead and then closed out the first set quickly. 

But Canas, who had beaten four top-10 players while winning his first Masters series title in Toronto last year, fought back from a break down in the closely contested second set. 

The 25-year-old from Buenos Aires slowed the pace of the game and made it 5-5 before Kucera regained his rhythm to make the match-winning break in the 12th game of the set. – Agencies 

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