MILAN: Top seed Jiri Novak crashed out of the Milan Indoor tournament in the first round on Monday when he was swept aside 6-4, 6-3 by fellow Czech Radek Stepanek.
Novak, who finished seventh in last year’s Champions Race and reached the third round of the Australian Open this month, was worn down by his compatriot’s heavy groundstrokes.
Stepanek, a relatively new face on the tour who beat Gustavo Kuerten in the second round of the Australian Open, was delighted with the win over a player he is very familar with.
“Jiri and I spend a lot of time together. He’s my best friend on the tour. It was a tough match to play. We knew exactly what the other would be doing next. It was like chess,” said Stepanek.
“This is one of my best wins ever. I have beaten (Roger) Federer, (Goran) Ivanisevic and Kuerten before, but he’s probably the highest-ranked player I have beaten.”
The tournament also lost its second seed on the opening day after Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands was beaten 6-4, 6-3 by Sweden’s Thomas Enqvist.
Enquist missed the back end of 2002 due to a shoulder injury but said he felt comfortable and in shape after appearing in Australia, where he was knocked out in the first round.
“I played very well. I felt comfortable on court. I hit a lot of winners and had a good tempo. I was out for four months and it was fun to be back on a court again in Australia. I’m happy to be playing again,” said the Swede.
French seventh seed Nicolas Escude, the only man to take a set off Andre Agassi in Australia, also made an early exit, beaten 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 by Slovak Dominik Hrbaty.
There were so such problems for Finnish number eight seed Jarkko Nieminen, who dispatched Swiss Michel Kratochvil 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. – Reuters