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Tennis-Kafelnikov fights into Australian Open third round

Tennis-Kafelnikov fights into Australian Open third round

Yevgeny Kafelnikov is nothing if not brutally honest. A few years ago, he admits, he would probably have lost Thursday's fluctuating Australian Open second-round clash with wily German Nicolas Kiefer.

But the reigning Olympic champion's golden time in Australia over the last two years continues, courtesy of a three-hour-seven-minute 6-2 3-6 3-6 6-3 6-0 win over Kiefer on Melbourne Park's centre court.

Kafelnikov, winner of the 1999 Australian Open and runner-up to Andre Agassi in Melbourne last year, trailed two sets to one and was a break down at the start of the fourth set before regrouping to overrun Kiefer in a match that went the full distance.

The enigmatic Russian later admitted to "losing it" early in the fourth set against a consistent Kiefer, who slugged away from the baseline to force his opponent into error.

"You know, three, four years ago I might have let it go," Kafelnikov, seeded fifth here, said later. "But not this time, not this time."

CLOCK TICKING

The winner of a French and an Australian Open, plus Olympic gold in Sydney last year, the 26-year-old Kafelnikov says he is aware the clock is starting to tick on his career.

"I do realise that the grand slams are important... and probably with every match, you know, I go towards the end of my career, and every match is important to me now," he said.

"I was pushed basically 100 percent to the limit and it's quite helpful to the confidence," Kafelnikov said. "Today was a really big step for me."

Kafelnikov started powerfully against Kiefer, a quarter-finalist here last year and a dangerous opponent who finished 2000 ranked 20 in the world.

But as Kiefer mixed up his play and took the pace off the ball, the Russian's game deteriorated, with errors flowing from his forehand especially.

Kafelnikov lost six of seven games as Kiefer raced through the second set and also took the third.

The fourth began badly as well, with the Russian double-faulting to give Kiefer a break point in the opening game.

FRUSTRATION

He received a warning after smashing a ball away in frustration and subsequently dropped that game but it proved just the reality check he needed, and he slowly turned up the heat.

"I just got frustrated. I was a break down in the fourth and I just lost it a bit," Kafelnikov said. "Maybe all the emotions went out, (after that) I started to be a lot, lot calmer."

As Kafelnikov rallied, Kiefer collapsed. The German going downhill after he had an ace over-ruled in the eighth game of the fourth set.

He also needed treatment for a foot problem at the start of a fifth set that proved to be all one-way traffic.

"It's important for me to do well in Australia, it kind of brings me luck for the year," Kafelnikov said of his strong past form at the start of the year.

"Every time I play well here after that my year is going well."

Kafelnikov next faces American Chris Woodruff in the third round. Woodruff downed Germany's Alexander Popp.


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