Kratochvil ousts Tursunov, skips into Legg quarters

Swiss qualifier, 25, could meet No. 1 Agassi in semis


August 20, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - When he was growing up in Bern, Switzerland, Michel Kratochvil skipped. It was a sign of his age, yes, but also a sign of his delight every time he went to the tennis court.

"Everybody has his emotions and things he does to express them," said Kratochvil, a qualifier here and now a quarterfinalist in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic after dispatching No. 8 seed Dmitry Tursunov, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4). "When you see me skipping it's a sign that I'm feeling well - or trying to fool myself into believing I am."

Kratochvil, 25, will play Gilles Muller, a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 winner over Jan-Michael Gambill yesterday. Kratochvil and Muller are familiar with each other, as they met in a qualifier for the Australian Open at the start of this season. Muller won that match, but he isn't so sure about what will happen tomorrow.

"I watched his match on TV today," said Muller, who will be playing in his first ATP quarterfinal. "He looked like he is playing much better and with confidence. But I hope I can beat him again."

A victory in the quarterfinal will send the winner on to a possible semifinal meeting with No. 1 seed Andre Agassi.

Agassi defeated Kristian Pless last night, 6-4, 6-2, to get to his seventh consecutive quarterfinal here. He'll next play Paul-Henri Mathieu, who advanced to the quarters with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over Adrian Garcia.

Kratochvil, who is averaging nearly three tournaments a month since returning from a stomach muscle pull in April, will be playing in his second quarterfinal of the year. He said he is piling up the tournaments in an effort to improve his ranking, which is now 158.

But despite playing well in Indianapolis, Toronto and Cincinnati before coming here, he had little to show for it other than promise. He lost in the first or second round at each event, but forced his opponents - including No. 2-ranked Andy Roddick - to play three sets or tiebreakers in each match to beat him.

That makes Kratochvil's performance here something of a turning point. He has won two close matches that have included three tiebreakers, all of which he won.

"These matches have given me back some confidence," he said. "But I really don't look ahead."

Kratochvil has good reasons to concentrate on the present.

In 2002, the young Swiss, who was 23 then, seemed to be on his way up. His ranking rose to 35th in the world. He was the No. 2 player on the Swiss Davis Cup team behind only Roger Federer, who was ranked No. 6 in the world at the time. And he had shown he could beat the very best, outslugging Agassi, who would finish the year at No. 2, at a tournament in Indian Wells, Calif.

But then came a knee injury that required surgery in April 2003, and then two back injuries in a row. By the end of the year, he had missed eight months and his ranking had plummeted to 126.

After working with a trainer in January to strengthen his back, he started this season by pulling that previously mentioned stomach muscle.

Kratochvil laughs.

"Yeah, I know," he said, smiling at his own misfortune. "But it's not the first time I've had to make this kind of a comeback. When I was a kid in juniors, I was pretty good: No. 3 in the world at 16."

At 17, he was the European champion. That's when the injury bug first struck. A back injury forced him to miss eight months and return to the satellite tour to begin again.

"Maybe it made me tougher," he said. "It's been hard to keep coming back, but I want this too much. I have possibilities. I know I have possibilities - 2002 tells me that."

Men's singles, second round Andre Agassi (1), United States, def. Kristian Pless, 6-4, 6-2. Michel Kratochvil, Switzerland, def. Dmitry Tursunov (8), Russia, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4). Gilles Muller, Luxembourg, def. Jan-Michael Gambill, United States, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2. Paul-Henri Mathieu, France, def. Adrian Garcia, Chile, 7-6 (4), 6-4

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