Mikhail Youzhny was a surprise opening-day casualty at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open yesterday, the fourth-seeded Russian succumbing 7-6, 6-2 to Ukraine's Sergiy Stakhovsky in an error-strewn encounter. The bulk of the excitement in the disappointing battle between two ring-rusty rivals came in the pivotal first-set tie-break which went on for 24 fluctuating points before Stakhovsky took it on his fifth set point thanks to one of many forehand errors which came off the Youzhny racket.
Youzhny, ranked 19 in the world and 41 places better than his opponent, dropped his head after that disappointment - he had squandered three set points of his own - and the loss of the next four games expedited his downfall. The Russian had allowed Stakhovsky only one break point in that 68-minute first set but within 10 more one-sided minutes he had dropped his serve twice and there was no way back after that.
Stakhovsky surged in confidence in that second set and needed less than half of the time it had taken him to clinch the first to reverse a straight sets defeat he had suffered at the hands of Youzhny in their only previous encounter in Moscow last year. Having dispatched the fourth seed from Doha, Stakhovsky now has his sights on the fifth seeded Serbian Viktor Troicki who was a convincing 6-1, 7-5 winner over Spaniard Daniel Gimeno Traver.
Before that he will have to get past the winner of the first-round battle between Egyptian wild-card Karim Maamoun and the promising Pole Lukasz Kubot. Troicki's next opponent will be the diminutive Belgian Olivier Rochus, who found vintage form in sweeping aside the limited challenge of the local hope Abdulla Hajji. The Qatari player, entering the 32-man draw on a wild-card, managed to take only a single game off the wily Rochus. firstname.lastname@example.org