| Todd Martin celebrates his 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (9-7) victory over Martin Verkerk of The Netherlands at Flushing Meadow on Thursday. (AFP)
New York: With the MTV Music Awards warming up across town, Jennifer Capriati put on a show-stopping performance of her own at the US Open on Thursday night.
Whether she had an early night in mind or perhaps an invitation to P. Diddy’s post-awards party tucked away in her racket bag is anyone’s guess. Either way, the sixth seed did not hang around.
The floodlights barely had time to reach full power before she was off court, a 6-1, 6-1 winner over Slovak Martina Sucha.
“I miss being on the top...playing good tennis,” the American said, leaving no doubt as to her goals this fortnight. The one-sided manner of Capriati’s win suggests she could well be back on top come finals day. Next in her sights is Emilie Loit after the Frenchwoman ended the dreams of Russia’s Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-4.
After a slowish start, Andre Agassi shook his showbiz stuff on centre stage, following Capriati onto court and dazzling the late-night crowd and Swedish opponent Andreas Vinciguerra.
The men’s top seed and world No. 1, dressed in a menacing black outfit, cracked winners all over the court to beat Vinciguerra 7-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Next he will face former world No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, who ousted Dane Kenneth Carlsen 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.
“We go back a long time, have had a lot of battles,” Agassi smiled. “The Y-Man is a talented player. His career speaks for itself and he knows how to win, so I will have to be up from the start.”
Capriati and Agassi’s irresistible performances put Lleyton Hewitt and Mary Pierce’s struggle in context, the two former Grand Slam winners drawing on all their experience to advance.
Sixth seed Hewitt, who has battled indifferent form since his shock first-round loss at Wimbledon, recovered from a sluggish start as he grunted and growled his way past South Korea’s Lee Hyung-taik 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
“For me the first few rounds are toughest,” said Australian Hewitt, the 2001 US Open champion. “But I know what you have to do to win Slams. I’m through to the third round, I can’t complain.”
Fighting back to fitness following two injury-plagued seasons, a beefy Pierce showed glimpses of the power game that helped her win titles at the Australian and French Opens. The unseeded Frenchwoman clawed out a 6-2, 6-7, 7-6 win over 22nd seed Jelena Dokic in a draining two-hour performance on a sun-baked Centre Court.
Men’s 11th seed Paradorn Srichaphan had a much easier passage, brushing past Dominik Hrbaty 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, while 33rd seed Juan Ignacio Chela tamed Tomas Berdych 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.
Chela will next face claycourt king Juan Carlos Ferrero. The third-seeded Spaniard suffered a brief hardcourt hiccup before recovering his composure to move into the third round with a 1-6, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Juergen Melzer of Austria.
Eleventh seed Elena Dementieva clambered past Ukrainian Tatiana Perebiynis 5-7, 6-4, 6-0. A semi-finalist here in 2000, the Russian next faces American Amy Frazier. Frazier received a walkover in her second-round match when France’s Nathalie Dechy pulled out with a wrist injury.