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Open Road Ends for No. 2-Seeded Rios

September 07, 1998|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — The swagger and the sizzling groundstrokes of Marcelo Rios are one thing during the daylight hours. But at night, the Chilean seems to turn into another anonymous baseliner with little fortitude, looking like a deer caught in the headlights.

So when Rios was scheduled to play a night match at the U.S. Open--his departure seemed a foregone conclusion. The second-seeded Rios started slowly and finished slowly, as Magnus Larsson of Sweden defeated him, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, in a third-round match on Sunday.

USA Network commentator John McEnroe was critical of Rios.

"Look at Steffi Graf," McEnroe said. "Even though she has won all those Grand Slams, she still wants more. I wish Graf's love of the game would rub off on Marcelo Rios."

Rios didn't appear as though he expected to have a strong U.S. Open. He was ranked No. 1 for two weeks earlier in the summer and won one match in two tournaments.

"I didn't play very good the whole tournament. . . . It's not the end of the world, losing this match," he said.

Said the 34th-ranked Larsson: "It was a great atmosphere out there. He had his fans out there. I had mine. It was like a soccer match. It doesn't really matter if it is No. 1 or No. 10. He's still Marcelo Rios. I've beaten him before."

This was supposed to be the breakthrough year for Rios. But he hasn't been the same since losing in the quarterfinals of the French Open to Carlos Moya of Spain. Frankly, Moya is getting to be something of a career-killer in 1998.

American men's tennis might be in terrific shape if it were not for Moya. With one scintillating five-setter, Moya extinguished and broke the spirit of Michael Chang, fighting off three match points in the second round.

Having taken out the past of American tennis--Chang, whose best days seem behind him--the 10th-seeded Moya moved on to take care of its future, 21-year-old Jan-Michael Gambill.

Gambill did not have any match points but squandered a 4-2 lead in the fifth set. Moya, the French Open champion, defeated Gambill, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), in the third round.

The match had its electric moments, especially in the fifth set. Gambill started cramping and needed attention from the trainer. Moya fell during a point in the sixth game of the fifth, got up and continued playing but tweaked his ankle and injured his rear.

Gambill saved one match point with a terrific lob in the 10th game and fought off another in the tiebreaker with a forceful overhead. On his third match point, Moya won it when Gambill smacked a forehand in the net.

"I definitely missed a serious opportunity," Gambill said. "I mean, I gave him the match basically. He should have never broken me after I'm up 40-15 on my own serve in the fifth set. He didn't do anything special."

Said Moya: "I would rather win in an easier way. But, you know, if I have to win 7-6 in the fifth, having match points for him, I don't care. As long as I'm winning, I've got a lot of confidence with the [last] two victories."

He joked about how he felt after playing two five-setters.

"Perfect, fresh," Moya said, smiling. "I have to be honest, I was feeling really bad after the Chang match because there were so many rallies, pressure. Here, it was five sets but it was not even three hours long."

The other development on the men's side came when the lower half of the draw opened up, as fifth-seeded Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands retired late in the second set because of tendinitis in his left knee. He stopped playing his third-round match against Thomas Johansson of Sweden after winning the first in a tiebreaker.

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