Unseeded Safarova ousts Mauresmo from Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Defending champion Amelie Mauresmo tumbled out of the Australian Open on Sunday, falling 6-4, 6-3 to unseeded Lucie Safarova.

Safarova, the 19-year-old Czech player who had only won one match in six previous Grand Slam tournaments, faced just two break points in the fourth-round match and continually forced the French star into problems on her own serve.

“It’s amazing. I still can’t believe it,” said Safarova, ranked 70th.

“I’m so happy. It’s incredible.”

Third-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion, followed Mauresmo out, losing 6-4, 6-2 to Shahar Peer.

Unseeded American Mardy Fish was the first men’s player to reach the quarterfinals, beating No. 16 David Ferrer 6-1, 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-5 .

He will play No. 6 Andy Roddick or No. 9 Mario Ancic in the next round. Roddick faced Ancic on center court later Sunday.

The Mauresmo-Safarova match was played in mostly sunny conditions with the roof open at Rod Laver Arena. It was Safarova’s first time on center court in Australia and her first match against the second-seeded Mauresmo.

“I came out this morning and said, ‘Wow this is a big court.’ But I felt really comfortable here,” Safarova said.

She thanked her coach and physio and later, her boyfriend – 13th-seeded Tomas Berdych, who beat Dmitry Tursunov 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 in a rain-delayed third-round match.

Mauresmo had her Grand Slam breakthrough last year in Melbourne, winning her first major title seven years after reaching her first final, also in the Australian Open.

The 27-year-old player added the Wimbledon title and spent most of 2006 ranked No. 1.

In third-round matches delayed until Sunday by heavy rain, China’s Li Na upset No. 9 Dinara Safina 6-2, 6-2, 12th-seeded Anna Chakvetadze beat Jelena Kostanic Tosic 6-4, 6-4, and No. 15 Daniela Hantuchova edged Ashley Harkleroad 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-3.

On the men’s side, No. 12 Tommy Haas beat fellow German Florian Mayer 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3.

After recent heat then rain, it was a nearly perfect day for tennis Sunday, with the sun coming out occasionally through the clouds.

Mauresmo looked to be in good shape after an early break. But the left-handed Safarova, her right thigh heavily taped, quickly reversed roles and soon was hitting like the favorite. She had Mauresmo running and lunging all over the court, nailed crisp volleys and passed the Frenchwoman seemingly at ease.

Mauresmo, her confidence clearly waning, was shouting at herself as her mistakes piled up.

It looked as if nerves might get to Safarova as the pressure ratcheted up at 4-4 in the first set. She completely missed a backhand as Mauresmo was serving to make it 30-30. But Mauresmo returned the favor, double-faulting to set up a break point, then netting a backhand after a long rally in which she was sprinting from sideline to sideline.

Safarova had no nerves in finishing off the set, smacking a clean forehand winner down the line that Mauresmo could only watch.

The crowd seemed stunned as Safarova got two quick breaks in the second set and served at 4-1. Mauresmo, shaking her head in disbelief, got one break back, then held to pull within 4-3, getting a pair of aces when she successfully challenged line calls.

Safarova fell behind 0-30 in the next game, but fought back to hold.

Mauresmo hit a forehand to make it 15-40 in the next game. She fended off two match points before Safarova converted the third when Mauresmo netted a backhand. Safarova shouted, pumped her fists and raised her arms as she looked toward her coach.

Mauresmo quickly piled her gear into her bag, threw a towel over her shoulder and walked off, waving to the crowd. She was unavailable for comment until after her doubles match.

Kuznetsova, troubled recently by a respiratory problem that forced her out of a warmup tournament, dropped serve five times against the 16th-seeded Peer, who spends time in her offseason fulfilling mandatory military service in the Israeli army.

“I feel like I’m on a soccer field,” Peer said of the noisy crowd support. “It will be the first time for me to get to a quarterfinal in a Grand Slam, so I had nothing to lose.”

Peer will play the winner of the later fourth-round match between 11th-seeded Jelena Jankovic and Serena Williams.

On Saturday, top-seeded Maria Sharapova, No. 4 Kim Clijsters and No. 6 Martina Hingis all advanced in the women’s draw.

Men’s fifth-seeded James Blake moved into the second week at the expense of a close friend, ending Robby Ginepri’s run with a 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-2 victory.

Blake beat No. 2 Rafael Nadal, No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko and defending champion David Nalbandian at last year’s season-ending Masters Cup, where he lost the final to Roger Federer.

Nadal and Davydenko also advanced to the fourth round with straight-sets wins, while eighth-seeded Nalbandian rallied from two sets down and saved match points to win in five again.

Nadal will face 19-year-old Andy Murray of Scotland, the only player other than him to beat Federer last year. No. 15 Murray beat Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the fourth round at his third consecutive major.

Federer, the defending champion, faced 14th-seeded Novak Djokovic on Sunday, looking to improve his winning streak to 33 matches and move closer to his 10th Grand Slam title.

AP-ES-01-20-07 2348EST

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