WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Justin Gimelstob keeps falling into what he calls tennis “oblivion,” losing more than he wins, dealing with injuries, then doing whatever it takes to get back on the scene, whether it’s crisscrossing the globe for minor events to raise his ranking or taking a dangerous number of painkilling injections.

A week after quitting during a qualifying match because of a bad back, then getting into the main draw when someone pulled out, Gimelstob knocked off Olympic gold medalist Nicolas Massu 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (0) at Wimbledon on Wednesday to set up a third-round match against 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt.

“He plays with a lot of passion out there,” Hewitt said. “He’s a guy that’s always going to leave everything out on the court.”

Nine U.S. men entered the tournament, and after three days, just a trio is left – with the 123rd-ranked Gimelstob the unlikeliest. Taylor Dent, seeded 24th, beat countryman Kevin Kim 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 Wednesday to reach the third round, while No. 2 Andy Roddick faces Daniele Bracciali of Italy in a second-round match today.

Since turning pro in 1996 after winning the NCAA doubles title in his lone season at UCLA, Gimelstob has a .394 winning percentage, zero tour singles titles (but 12 in doubles), and zero trips past the third round at a Grand Slam. He’s had a litany of physical problems, including a broken foot that sidelined him for seven months in 2003-04, dropping his ranking below 200.

No. 29 Massu was one of three seeded men who lost. No. 22 Dominik Hrbaty was beaten by 18-year-old Gael Monfils, who won three junior Slams in 2004, and No. 8 Nikolay Davydenko, a French Open semifinalist, retired with a right wrist injury.

Hewitt beat Jan Hernych 6-2, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, Roger Federer extended his Wimbledon winning streak to 16 matches with a straight-set victory over Ivo Minar, and two-time major winner Marat Safin got past 2003 Wimbledon runner-up Mark Philippoussis 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-4 in a match interrupted when the Centre Court net suddenly collapsed.

“I’ve been here a long time, since 1977, and I watched on TV as a kid,” John McEnroe said. “And I’ve never seen that happen.”

No seeded women lost, with No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo and No. 15 Kim Clijsters advancing in straight sets.

Three top Russians struggled, though: U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Sania Mirza 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-4 despite getting broken six times and committing 30 unforced errors, 2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina needed 13 set points to close out the opener in her victory over Aiko Nakamura, and two-time Slam finalist Elena Dementieva double-faulted 17 times but defeated Sabine Klaschka 2-6, 6-3, 8-6.

A fourth Russian, No. 30 Dinara Safina, eliminated Barbora Strycova 6-2, 6-2 and will face Davenport. It’s the first trip to Wimbledon’s third round for Safina, the younger sister of Safin.

Big Bro’ never liked playing on grass, not from the first time he stepped on the stuff at the All England Club as a wild card in 1998, and he vowed after last year’s first-round exit that he was through trying to succeed here. He’s not quite ready to pronounce himself an aficionado, but he played a classic, each-point-ends-in-a-blink grass-court match against Philippoussis.

“It’s really important to have fun on grass, because it’s a tough surface. You have to play a game that’s not really comfortable,” No. 5 Safin said. “If you’re not having fun, it’s impossible to do anything good here.”

Philippoussis wasted five break points, including when he led 5-4, 0-40 in the first set, and failed to take advantage of 4-3 leads in each tiebreaker. Safin finished with 20 aces, Philippoussis 21, and there were a combined 48 other unreturned serves in the match. Only about a dozen baseline exchanges lasted five or more strokes.

Safin earned the one break at 3-3 in the third set with four straight exquisite shots, all the while playing on a left knee that aches with nearly every step.

Gimelstob’s back bothered him for months, and he withdrew after one game of his third qualifying match. But he got into Wimbledon anyway as a “lucky loser,” the designation for someone ranked higher than others eliminated in qualifying.

So he got his third cortisone shot of the year, and 13th of his career, and it apparently worked. Gimelstob ended the third-set tiebreaker with Massu with a diving volley that was practically Beckeresque.

When he smacked a forehand volley to end the match, Gimelstob bent his knees, curled his back slightly, pumped his fists and screamed as though he had won the title.

“You have to respect the effort he’s put in to be a professional and appreciate him as a journeyman,” McEnroe said, “and now he’s one of a few Americans with hope here.”

Bristling at the notion that U.S. men’s tennis is in trouble, Gimelstob said: “The problem is, in America we’re so spoiled. … We’re not as great as we were in the heyday, but we’ve got a lot of good players, a great player at the top, and we have other guys that are challenging on a weekly basis.”

And while some might be offended by the term “journeyman,” Gimelstob comes close to wearing it like a badge of honor. Pleading with the All England Club moderator not to end his news conference, Gimelstob described his travels from Busan, South Korea, to Yuba City, Calif., to the London suburb of Roehampton in recent days.

“This is my third continent in four weeks. But you actually … try to enjoy the moment a little bit,” Gimelstob said. “I feel this desire and this need to eke out every possible ounce of talent and memory that I can drag out of my body and my tennis, because there’s obviously going to be a time when I can’t do that.”


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