| Paradorn Srichaphan does his traditional ‘namaste’ after winning his first-round match against Austrian Jurgen Melzer in Melbourne Monday. (AFP)
Melbourne: Jennifer Capriati was sensationally knocked out of the Australian Open by Germany’s Marlene Weingartner on the opening day of the year’s first Grand Slam.
The third-seeded American’s hopes of completing a hattrick at Melbourne Park came to an abrupt halt Monday when she blew a commanding lead to go down 6-2, 6-7 (6-8), 4-6 in the first round to a player ranked 87 places below her.
Capriati looked to have the match under control when she raced through the first set then opened up a 4-2 lead in the second. But her lack of match practice suddenly caught up with her and her game fell apart at the seams.
She failed to hit her serves with any consistency and started spraying her groundstrokes all over the court as Weingartner, sensing her opportunity, pounced. The German captured the second set in a tie-breaker and snatched victory when she broke Capriati on her first match point to pull off the biggest upset of her career.
Capriati, looking heavier and slower than when she saved four match points to beat Martina Hingis in last year’s final in one the great comebacks of tennis history, said she was not fit enough this time.
“I felt like I didn’t give myself the proper preparation,” Capriati said. “If I wasn’t the defending champion, I probably wouldn’t have shown up.”
The third-seeded American underwent eye surgery after the season-ending WTA Championships and played just one match before arriving in Melbourne — a three-set loss to Tatiana Panova in Sydney last week.
Capriati’s stunning defeat has increased the chances of another all-Williams final after Venus swept past Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-2. Venus showed she is still looming as the biggest threat with an effortless win. The world No. 2, seeded second here behind sister Serena, swept past Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-2 to reach the second round.
Once Venus had shaken off the ring-rustiness caused by two months away from competitive action she also ran away with her match, demolishing the gifted Russian.
“I’ve been practising… going out — living life,” she giggled when asked of her preparations. “I was just a little rusty out there but at times I was my old self.
“I was rushing and then I realised ‘Venus, slow down and you’ll be okay’. You know, I didn’t expect to be 100 per cent in this match but next match I’ll be 150.”
Andre Agassi followed her on to the main showcourt and bulldozed fellow-American Brian Vahaly 7-5, 6-3, 6-3.
The three-time champion had been unable to defend his title here last year because of a wrist injury. “To be back here... there is a lot of nerves,” Agassi smiled courtside afterwards. “It’s been a while.”
Anna Kournikova won her first Grand Slam match in two years, sweeping past Henrieta Nagyova 6-1, 6-2. “I played nearly a perfect match today,” she smiled. “It didn’t cross my mind that I lost four (first round) Grand Slam matches in a row. It’s not good if you think about that too much.”
The victory sets up a second-round clash with fifth seed Justine Henin-Hardenne — her conqueror in the first round here last year. The newly married Belgian breezed into the second round with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Switzerland’s Myriam Casanova.
Women’s ninth seed and former champion Lindsay Davenport beat French wildcard Camille Pin 6-2, 6-1 to move smoothly into the second round. She next meets Uzbek Iroda Tulyaganova, who moved into the second round after Australian Alicia Molik was forced to retire after injuring her ankle. The match was level at 3-6, 6-4.
In other matches, seventh-seeded Slovak Daniela Hantuchova beat Colombia’s Fabiola Zuluaga 7-5, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4 and 15th seed Alexandra Stevenson of US beat Britain’s only entrant in the men’s or women’s singles, Elena Baltacha, 6-1, 6-4.
Just four seeds fell by the wayside on Monday, with former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez joining Capriati on the casualty list.
Martinez, the women’s 31st seed, lost to Australia’s Samantha Stosur 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 4-6.
South African Wayne Ferreira sent Spanish 26th seed Tommy Robredo packing with a 5-7, 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 win and Romanian 21st seed Andrei Pavel retired after aggravating a back injury in the first set against Renzo Furlan.
Spain’s fifth seed Carlos Moya advanced, beating Belgium’s Dick Norman 7-5, 6-3, 6-4, while countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero also advanced with a hard-fought 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Franco Squillari of France. Spain’s eighth-seeded Albert Costa ousted David Prinosil of Germany 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5).
Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov, seeded 22, safely booked his place in the second round with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over American Jeff Morrison on Monday.
Asians move up
Paradorn Srichaphan and Lee Hyung-taik both recorded first-round wins as they continued to raise the profile of Asian tennis.
Eleventh seed Paradorn was given the honour of playing the opening match at the Open and he didn’t let his supporters down, beating Austrian Jurgen Melzer 7-5, 6-4, 1-6, 6-0 at the Rod Laver Arena.
Paradorn’s win capped a highly-successful Asian opening to the Melbourne fortnight with further wins by South Korean Lee Hyung-Taik and Japanese pair, Ai Sugiyama and Akiko Morigami.
Lee, who conquered world No. 4 Juan Carlos Ferrero to win last weekend’s Sydney International for his first ATP title after coming through as a qualifier, knocked over Spaniard David Ferrer 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to set up a second round encounter with Agassi.
Sugiyama, the 21st seed, toiled away in the heat to put away Indonesia’s Angelique Widjaja 6-3 4-6 6-2, while Morigami accounted for Stanislava Hrozenska of the Slovak Republic 6-2, 6-1.