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Clay sends Federer to another dirty loss


PARIS - Hamburg was no mirage. Roger Federer indeed did win the title there 14 days ago, caving in a succession of some of the best clay-court players in the world.

But this is the French Open. This is the big one on dirt, and the Hamburg trophy plus a euro buys a croissant at the corner boulangerie here.

All praise to Gustavo Kuerten, the three-time winner at Roland Garros, for playing as clean a match as you'll ever see against the No. 1 player in the world, and on the Philippe Chatrier stadium court, no less.

But Federer made this 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 Saturday surprise easy for Guga with his inconsistent serving, his abysmal volleying and a very suspect game plan that had him standing five feet behind the baseline during the first two sets, trying to win a war of attrition with a man who was sending laser shots to the corners off both sides.

"Today, I required more from myself," said Kuerten, who reached the round of 16 at Roland Garros for the sixth straight year. "I couldn't let him grow into the game, give him an opportunity. So I had to maintain a level pretty high. For me, was a tough job. But it worked fine at the end. You go out of the court with a lot of confidence after a match like this."

Few expected Federer to win this second Slam of the season, especially after going out in the first round here the past two years. But there were those who thought with a good show, perhaps the quarters or semifinals, he could make a statement about the fullness of his game.

He didn't and he will leave Paris having reinforced doubts that he will win the French, a fate that bedeviled his most famous predecessor at No. 1, Pete Sampras, for his entire career.

Federer's loss left the upper half of the draw brimming over with intriguing possibilities. Kuerten now draws big-serving Spanish lefty Feliciano Lopez in the round of 16 after Lopez defeated lucky loser Hyung-Taik Lee in four sets.

Also through to the fourth round: No. 8 David Nalbandian, who took out Stefan Koubek in four; No. 12 Lleyton Hewitt, who came from a two-sets-to-one deficit to subdue Martin Verkerk; No. 20 Marat Safin, also down two sets to one before beating qualifier Potito Starace; and unseeded Gaston Gaudio and Igor Andreev.

There were no upsets on the women's side, though seventh-seeded Jennifer Capriati had her second three-set struggle of the French. She's into the fourth round with No. 2 Serena Williams, No. 4 Venus Williams, No. 6 Anastasia Myskins, No. 11 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 17 Francesca Schiavone, No. 23 Fabiola Zuluaga and unseeded Shinobu Asagoe.

The Williams sisters are now playing well enough to be considered championship timbre. Venus, particularly, has recovered completely from her ankle injury. She thoroughly thrashed Mary Pierce.

Where did Federer's game go? He had two break-point opportunities in the second game of the match, converting one, then didn't get another the rest of the way. He missed an easy overhead in the third set. He seemed off-balance much of the match, complaining that the court was slippery. Kuerten continually kept him off-balance with a splendid mix of serves.

By the time Federer got more aggressive, at the beginning of the final set, by stepping inside the baseline and taking Kuerten's second serve early, it was too late. He couldn't find the rhythm of the match.

"The problem is not the clay court," he insisted. "The problem is more with the conditions on center court. I've played well on Suzanne Lenglen and on the other courts. But the Chatrier court is really, really big, and I just haven't had enough play on it."

Meanwhile, Serena Williams, despite striking eight double faults, won the first eight games of a 6-0, 6-4 victory over Silvia Talaja. She staggered a bit toward the end, but Talaja double-faulted on match point. "Maybe I got a little tight," Williams suggested. "I just needed to relax."

Capriati continues to play in streaks of very good and very bad. Elena Bovina was one point from holding to 5-5 in the third set of this 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 victory when she slapped a forehand long. She followed that with a weak forehand into the net and Capriati closed it out with a forehand cross court.

"I like it where I have to work," said Capriati, who could meet Serena in the quarters.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Men's singles

Third round

Gaston Gaudio, Argentina, def. Thomas Enqvist, Sweden, 6-0, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4. Gustavo Kuerten (28), Brazil, def. Roger Federer (1), Switzerland, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Igor Andreev, Russia, def. Julien Benneteau, France, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-3. Feliciano Lopez (23), Spain, def. Lee Hyung-taik, South Korea, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-0, 6-3. Lleyton Hewitt (12), Australia, def. Martin Verkerk (19), Netherlands, 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1.

David Nalbandian (8), Argentina, def. Stefan Koubek, Austria, 6-7 (1), 6-3, 7-6 (1), 7-5. Marat Safin (20), Russia, def. Potito Starace, Italy, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 7-5. Albert Costa (26), Spain, leads Xavier Malisse, Belgium, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 5-5, susp., darkness.

Women's singles

Third round

Francesca Schiavone (17), Italy, def. Virginia Ruano Pascual, Spain, 6-2, 6-3. Anastasia Myskina (6), Russia, def. Denisa Chladkova, Czech Republic, 6-3, 7-6 (3). Jennifer Capriati (7), United States, def. Elena Bovina (25), Russia, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. Serena Williams (2), United States, def. Silvija Talaja, Croatia, 6-0, 6-4. Shinobu Asagoe, Japan, def. Gisela Dulko, Argentina, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

Svetlana Kuznetsova (11), Russia, def. Myriam Casanova, Switzerland, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Fabiola Zuluaga, Colombia, def. Katarina Srebotnik, Slovenia, 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. Venus Williams (4), United States, def. Mary Pierce (30), France, 6-3, 6-1.

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