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Kuerten Bids To Overcome Jitters

January 16, 2001

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ Gustavo Kuerten, ranked No. 1 in the world, feels out of kilter when he plays the Australian Open. It shows in the results: ousted in the first round last year, three second-round defeats between 1997 and 1999.

On Tuesday, his leg was tight and so was his victory over Gaston Gaudio of Argentina, a 7-5, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5 victory in which a frustrated Kuerten bounced his racket on the court a couple of times.

The Brazilian, who vacationed in Hawaii after winning the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Lisbon last month, showed he is better-equipped for the faster hard courts than he used to be.

``I think I have more weapons right now,″ said Kuerten, who won the French Open last year and in 1997. ``I can do different things like this, I try to surprise him a couple of times, going (into net) after my serve.″

Kuerten also hit some short balls against Gaudio, a spirited clay-courter who hit some ferocious groundstrokes, but was unable to sustain his game against his more experienced opponent. Kuerten pounced on drop shots that bounced too high.

A lot of players say how comfortable they feel in Melbourne; they talk about the hospitality, the sunshine, the extra energy they have after a year-end break. For Kuerten, it’s always been an awkward tour stop.

``Always one of the first tournaments. Here is all the opposite, you know. Like when I wake up, I want to sleep. When I sleep, I want to play. So it’s strange,″ he said.

Kuerten felt a leg strain during his match against the No. 39 Argentinian, but said he felt fine after some treatment: ``A lot of stretch, massage and food, too.″

Kuerten next faces Greg Rusedski, one of the biggest servers in the game.

``It depends if he misses more first serves or if I’m returning well. That’s going to be the difference in the match,″ he said.

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