Rafter scrambles to five-set win Defending Open champ loses first two sets, but rallies, ousts Arazi

September 02, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- No defending U.S. Open champion has ever lost in the first round here -- but it was close last night.

On the Arthur Ashe Stadium court, Patrick Rafter met the tricky, troublemaking Hicham Arazi, who forced the defending champ to five sets before bowing, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.

It was an improvisational end to an otherwise status-quo day.

"A few things agitated me throughout the night, and I tried to make a point," Rafter said. "The ball wasn't responding the way I liked and my first volley wasn't going the way I wanted. Down, two sets to none, I thought I'd get a long vacation and be able to see Pearl Jam on the ninth."

This marks the fourth time Rafter has won a five-set match after losing the first two sets. He is 10-2 in five-set matches overall, and has won nine straight.

"But it doesn't really give me anything to build on," he said. "I came back from two sets down in the first round of the French, but I got beat in the next round. I want to try to sharpen a few things before my next match."

The 44th-ranked Arazi, who seemed well on his way to breaking a three-year string of first-round losses at the Open, was undone by his reactions to the calls of chair umpire Norm Chryst in the fourth set.

The umpire called an Arazi shot wide, though replays appeared to show it was good, on a point that would have given Arazi a break point.

Instead, Rafter had the advantage and held. A game later, Rafter broke to gain the upper hand in the fourth set and was on his way.

But for a long time last night, it looked like Arazi, 24, who had had the best run in Grand Slam play of his career this season, would be the victor.

L The Morrocan was on his game from the start; Rafter was not.

When Venus Williams ran over Elena Wagner, 6-1, 6-0, in less than an hour, it brought Rafter to his first match in this Open long before he was apparently ready.

The first set was fast and to the point. Arazi was just about as perfect as a player can be. He had no unforced errors. He cashed the only break point in the first game on Rafter's serve. And on his own serve, he put such a spin on his lefty swings that Rafter didn't come close to creating a break point.

In fact, the biggest hand from the crowd came when a group of Australian fans high up in the stadium sang "Waltzing Matilda."

Near the end of the set, Rafter's mentor, Tony Roche, said the No. 3 seed needed to adjust to Arazi's serve. It seemed to be the spin more than the speed or positioning of the serve that was throwing Rafter. Through two sets, the Aussi managed just 14 points on Arazi's serve, and again in the second, there was just one break point, and Arazi cashed it.

The third set started dangerously for Rafter. Another break point appeared on the Australian's serve, but this time he fought it off. He fought off two more in the seventh game, at 3-3, and then

finally broke Arazi for a 5-3 lead.

From that point, he went on to force a fourth set, with a great point, in which both players scrambled around the court. Rafter finally got the winner with a backhand, cross-court shot that looped over Arazi's up-stretched racket.

It was in the fourth set that Arazi lost his concentration over Chryst's calls.

"I think the ball is good, the umpire said the ball was out and it hurt me very much," Arazi said. "They never change their decision. But it's not the reason I lost. He was starting to play better and not making the mistakes he was earlier."

But at the time, Arazi was hot. On the changeover, he targeted Chryst.

"Guys in the chair, I hate them," Arazi said. "Guys in the chair, you're always right. You're never wrong. You're never wrong."

In the next game, Chryst awarded a point seemingly won by Arazi to Rafter, when Chryst judged the Moroccan had touched the net. And at the end of the set, won by Rafter, 6-3, Arazi again had words with the umpire, "What you say, I don't care. Don't talk to me. Don't talk to me."

Rafter then went on to win the fifth set easily.

Also on the men's side yesterday, Wayne Ferreira forced last year's Open runner-up, Greg Rusedski, to a fifth set before Rusedski took control, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 5-7, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, and No. 12 seed Jonas Bjorkman also needed five sets to oust Cedric Pioline, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2.

In women's matches, No. 8 seed Steffi Graf, making her first appearance on the 2-year-old Arthur Ashe court after a year's absence because of injury, lost a set to Corina Moriaru, but composed herself and rallied for 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory; No. 3 seed Jana Novotna came back from a break down to dispatch wild-card Jennifer Capriati, 6-4, 6-3; No. 2 Lindsay Davenport (6-0, 6-2) advanced, as did the other top women's seeds, including No. 5 Venus Williams (6-1, 6-0); No. 12 Mary Pierce (6-1, 4-6, 6-2) and No. 15 Anna Kournikova (6-1, 6-3).

118th U.S. Open

When: Through Sept. 13

Where: National Tennis Center, New York.

TV: 11 a.m., 7: 30 p.m., USA

Today's featured matches:

Day session, begins 11 a.m.

Petr Korda (4) vs. Bernd Karbacher

Monica Seles (6) vs. Joannette Kruger

Marcelo Rios (2) vs. Daniel Vacek

Steffi Graf (8) vs. Marlene Weingartner

Mary Joe Fernandez vs. Alexandra Fusai

Night session, begins 7: 30 p.m.

Martina Hingis (1) vs. Iva Majoli

Pete Sampras (1) vs. Paul Goldstein

Pub Date: 9/02/98

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