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Archive for Saturday, July 1, 2006

Hingis among victims on wacky day

Blake drops another five-set decision; 2002 runner-up Nalbandian eliminated

July 1, 2006

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— Martina Hingis wiped away a tear as she walked off Centre Court, a match that seemed within her grasp suddenly gone.

James Blake figured it would take until about dinner time to get over his loss to a much lower-ranked opponent.

David Nalbandian was ready to watch the World Cup after his earliest exit at Wimbledon.

There were plenty of opportunities to dissect how top players deal with disappointment at the All England Club on Friday. One upset after another shook up the draws, with 1997 Wimbledon champion Hingis, 2002 runner-up Nalbandian and No. 8-seeded Blake joined on the way out by 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.

"Somehow, at Wimbledon, you're never safe," Hingis said after wasting a 3-0 lead in the final set and losing to Ai Sugiyama of Japan, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4. "When you're out on the grass, it seems like you never know how the next point's going to go."

Half a season into her comeback after three years away because of injuries, Hingis was playing at Wimbledon for the first time since 2001. And she impressed until Friday, dropping a total of seven games in the first two rounds.

But the five-time major champion looked fatigued as the match went past the 11â2-hour mark, double-faulting twice to get broken to 3-all in the final set, then slipping at the baseline on two points as she lost the next game. Hingis - at 25, she's five years younger than Sugiyama - got more and more rattled as the match slipped away, complaining about line calls and slamming a ball off the court after one miscue, drawing a collective "Oooooh!" from the crowd.

Blake played terrifically for 11â2 sets, then collapsed completely over the final two, betrayed by an ineffective serve and a career-long aversion for big matches that go the distance: The 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 loss to 53rd-ranked Max Mirnyi of Belarus made the American 0-9 in five-setters.

So what's the problem in the long matches?

"I lose 'em, that's the problem," Blake said. "I don't know what it is."

No. 5 Kuznetsova, the French Open runner-up three weeks ago, also blew a lead in her 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 loss to No. 27 Li Na, the first Chinese woman to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon.

Even some top players who won had problems, including 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt, pushed to a fifth set by 102nd-ranked Lee Hyung-taik of South Korea in a second-round match suspended by darkness Thursday.

And three-time defending champion Roger Federer endured what amounts to a stunning lapse for him, getting broken for the first time at the tournament - when he was serving for the match at 5-3 in the third set against Nicolas Mahut of France. Federer broke right back for a 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory, his record 44th in a row on grass.

Federer's next opponent, No. 13 Tomas Berdych, upset the Swiss star at the 2004 Olympics. Berdych outlasted No. 19 Tommy Haas 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 4-6, 8-6, improving to 8-0 in five-setters.

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