Rafter's rapid return to winning ways

 

Two-time US Open champion Pat Rafter returned to competitive tennis after a twomonth lay-off with a straightsets victory at the Australian Hardcourt Tennis Championship in Adelaide yesterday.

The world number four and tournament top seed defeated Japanese qualifier Takao Suzuki 6-3, 6-0 in his firstround match. He was put under pressure on his serve in the opening set but demonstrated the extended break to assist his recovery from a knee injury had not dulled his ability to lift his game on the big points.

Rafter said it was a relief to win his first match of the year as it was normally difficult to predict form after the summer break.

"The first few matches are always very rusty, you are never quite sure how they're going to come out," Rafter said afterwards. "I didn't really pick up a racquet until Christmas so my preparation hasn't been ideal for this tournament. Hopefully it will be for the Australian Open."

He said the injury had not troubled him although some time would be needed for the knee to get back to full strength.

"The patella is misplaced a fraction and I need to strengthen up all the muscles around it," Rafter said. "I worked it as hard as I could tonight and it held up well, I felt good."

Earlier, American former world number one Jim Courier made an early exit from the tournament, losing 7-5, 6-3 to the Czech Republic's Slava Dosedel.

Courier, whose ranking tumbled to 75 by the end of 1998, never looked like getting into the match and was unable to threaten the consistent Dosedel on his service games, gaining only one break point in the two sets.