MELBOURNE, Australia — And now, a word from the other side about bad draws . . .
When Pete Sampras looked at his first-round opponent, he didn't see Karol Kucera of Slovakia, the 75th-ranked player in the world. He saw the guy who beat him here three years ago andtook out Andre Agassi last year at the French Open.
Defending champion Lindsay Davenport too, would have preferred to work her way into the event instead of being drawn into the undertow of the Jelena Dokic controversy. The 17-year-old Dokic, who decided to represent Yugoslavia instead of Australia, seems to be able to raise her level of play even under duress.
Conspiracy theories, though, seem to be limited to banned, bearded fathers. Dokic's father, Damir, said he felt the draw was "rigged" and his daughter has taken to parroting his words.
"It should be 100% blame on Damir," said Australian commentator and former tour player John Alexander of the controversy.
Interest was at high level. The other players were crowded around the TV in the women's locker room, angling to watch the treatment Dokic received from the crowd.
Damir Dokic said he feared the crowd would behave poorly toward his daughter, and hours before the match, he declared that the family would leave Australia immediately, even if Jelena managed to beat the second-seeded Davenport.
Davenport made it a moot point as she rediscovered her serve just in time against the hard-hitting Dokic, winning the first-round match Monday at the Australian Open, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, pounding five aces in her final two service games. The crowd, other than a few muted boos, treated Dokic with restraint, but she was teary-eyed afterward in the interview room.
"It's tough, getting here late from Sydney; starting off against a great opponent in really unusual circumstances definitely made it a bit more challenging than normal matches," Davenport said.
Sampras and Kucera started their match late and finished after midnight. The third-seeded Sampras survived a barrage of pinpoint passing shots, defeating Kucera, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3). Kucera double-faulted twice in the fourth-set tiebreaker and Sampras finished off the 3-hour 17-minute match with an angled forehand volley.
"He's the toughest first-round opponent I've ever had in Australia," Sampras said.
Sampras reiterated that he would not be playing Davis Cup and agreed with Agassi, who said he would not return until the format changed.
"I just would love to see it change," Sampras said. "I don't think it's going to happen while I'm playing or while Andre's playing and that's unfortunate. But I can be very happy with what I've done in Davis Cup, been part of two winning teams and had some pretty good epic matches."