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Graf Shows She Has Enough Left; So Does Philippoussis

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Another left-hander made Steffi Graf look, well, almost mortal at a Grand Slam event.

Quite unlike her U.S. Open loss to left-handed Patty Schnyder, the 10th-seeded Graf summoned her trademark steely resolve today after a dubious start and defeated Barbara Schwartz of Austria, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, in a second-round match at the Australian Open.

It came on a day when the men’s second-seeded player, Alex Corretja of Spain was eliminated, and 14th-seeded Mark Philippoussis was able to turn back a persistent Michael Chang.

Graf, who didn’t play here last year, lost five consecutive games after holding a 4-1 first-set lead. She pulled herself together in the final two sets, reducing her unforced errors to five in the second and six in the third. In contrast, the 129th-ranked Schwartz, who was appearing in her first Australian Open, had 44 unforced errors in the match, including 31 in the last two sets.

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“She played an exceptional first set,” Graf said. “She was playing so fast for a lot of difficult shots, and really didn’t let me get into the match.”

Continuing momentum from her late resurgence in 1998, Graf has had impressive moments this year, defeating sisters Serena and Venus Williams on consecutive days recently in Sydney.

A report in the German magazine Stern said Graf’s father would be traveling to Melbourne to watch her play but that apparently is incorrect. Peter Graf was released from prison last year after being convicted of tax-evasion charges. He has not been at a Grand Slam event since Wimbledon in 1995.

“No, he is not here,” Graf said. “He is actually sick at home.”

The women’s side has not been as riddled with injuries and upsets as the men’s field. Through almost two rounds, the only seeded women to lose have been eighth-seeded Schnyder of Switzerland and 13th-seeded Irina Spirlea of Romania.

Eight of the seeded men are already gone. American qualifier Paul Goldstein pulled off the biggest victory of his short professional career, defeating eighth-seeded Greg Rusedski of Great Britain, 6-4, 6-7 (9-7), 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, in a second-round match today.

Goldstein, who graduated from Stanford last year, was asked what this would do for his career. “I hope a lot of good,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m new at this. I hope this puts me on the map, so to speak.”

Third-seeded Patrick Rafter of Australia is the only remaining seeded player among the top four. Corretja lost to lightly regarded Christian Ruud of Norway, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, Wednesday in the second round.

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Corretja, the winner of the season-ending ATP Championships, could have supplanted Pete Sampras at No. 1. Now Rafter is the only player with a chance at the top spot. If he reaches the final, that will be enough.

Rafter, the two-time defending U.S. Open champion, is closing in on a possible fourth-round showdown against his countryman, Philippoussis, which would be a rematch of their U.S. Open final in September.

First, Rafter must deal with a resurgent Thomas Enqvist of Sweden, who has been the hottest player on the tour. Philippoussis beat Michael Chang in one of the most riveting matches so far here, winning in the second round on Wednesday, 7-6 (7-1), 2-6, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, in 3 hours 45 minutes.

Chang’s effort would have been good enough against almost anyone else, as he retrieved magnificently. For him, it was his second consecutive heartbreaking Grand Slam loss. At the U.S. Open he lost to Carlos Moya of Spain in the second round after holding three match points.

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“You know, I don’t think these matches are ever easy to take,” Chang said. “By all means, they are just not easy. You hope you are able to break through and beat some of these top guys, get the ball rolling.

“The ball keeps rolling, but it hasn’t happened for me. But what can you say? You feel in your heart that one of these days things are going to turn around.”

Philippoussis was starting to think Chang, 26, might be slowing down in his so-called advancing years.

“He’s still quick, don’t get me wrong,” Philippoussis said. “I thought he got a bit slow over the years. But, you know, damn it, it felt like he was moving well out there.”

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So was defending champion Petr Korda of the Czech Republic, despite his gimpy ankle. He needed treatment his first-round victory, angering his opponent Galo Blanco of Spain. Korda, moving smoothly, took out the final Spaniard in the men’s draw, defeating Julian Alonso, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1, today.

Korda will next play 15th-seeded Todd Martin in the third round. Martin got out of early trouble and beat Hendrik Dreekmann of Germany, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, also today.


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