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Russian vs. German - victory for Russian
Rainer Schuttler, the fleet-footed German whose climb into the top ten for the first time was one of the best success stories of 2003, suffered a rude shock in his opening match of the new year. Schuttler had been seeded to reach the final of the Qatar Open, a one-million-dollar tournament he won five years ago, but was beaten in straight sets by Mikhail Youzhny, his doubles partner. The young Russian won 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) despite suffering from cramp from 4-2 in the second set, an ailment which required a three-minute injury break and looked likely to destroy his well-worked advantage. Youzhny had been playing with great fluency off the ground, revealing a particular penchant for striking the ball hard down both sidelines and often embarrassing one of the most mobile opponents on the tour. But after Youzhny's own movement was hampered, he failed to serve out for the match at 5-3, missed two match points at 5-4, and only struggled through in the tie-break by capitalising of some surprisingly error-prone counter-hitting from Schuttler. "At first it only bothered me while I was serving," said Youzhny. "But then at 5-3 it started to hurt when I was running. I tried to win points quickly and usually this is catastrophic against a player like Rainer," the world number 43 added. "In the tie-break it started to feel better though and I hit some good shots," added Youzhny, who looks more than good enough to rise into the top 20 if he can avoid the injuries which plagued him last year. Schuttler, who has abandoned the red shoes and red shirt which were his conspicuous trademark last year, also wore an unfamiliar down-in-the mouth look. "I am very disappointed," he said. "It can be difficult when you get back into competition at the start of a new year, because nothing you can do in practice is the same as that. "My mistake was to be too cautious and to play too defensively. But he played very well and made some good winners after he got cramp. I guess if he invites me out to dinner I will still go," he added with a flash of humour. Seventh seed Tim Henman of Britain had no problem ousting unseeded Spaniard David Sanchez 6-4, 6-0. Earlier Mark Philippoussis, the Wimbledon runner-up, said that it was his greatest aim to atone for his defeat in the final to Roger Federer in July, and reckoned that the Australian press, which in the past have been very critical of him, were the toughest in the world. "They are very hard on their sportsman and probably only the British press compares," the 27-year-old US-based Victorian said. "That sort of treatment either breaks a person or make them stronger." Philippoussis is seeded to meet with Andy Roddick, the world number one from the United States, in Friday's semi-finals.
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