Mello out at Millennium Championships
By Michael Russo
DELRAY BEACH -- On Sunday, a new champion will be crowned at the Millennium International Tennis Championships.
That was assured Thursday when defending champion Ricardo Mello was ousted in straight sets and two-time ITC champion Jan-Michael Gambill was beaten in three sets in the second round at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.
"Losing a match is never fun, especially here where I have played well," said Mello, who lost to South African Wesley Moodie 6-4, 6-4. "There are some expectations to do well again. But Moodie was too good for me today."
Gambill, the all-time winningest player at the ITC (14-4), was knocked out by Dutchman Peter Wessels 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3. After winning the second-set tiebreaker, Gambill struggled in the third set and eventually handed Wessels a gift -- a break of his serve via a double fault to give Wessels a 5-3 lead.
"It wasn't until the five-minute warmup when I learned [Gambill] won this tournament twice," said Wessels, 26, who made it to the ITC semifinals four years ago. "I said, `Oh, this might be even more difficult than I thought.' But he didn't play his best game. He missed a lot of easy balls and had some double faults."
While none of the eight quarterfinalists has won the ITC, the top three seeds are still alive and will play today -- 21st-ranked Vince Spadea, No. 28 Jiri Novak and No. 46 Xavier Malisse.
The top-seeded Spadea, who won Wednesday and will face Kevin Kim at 7 tonight, is playing in his eighth ITC after losing in the final to Mello in September. Malisse, the No. 3 seed, won Wednesday and will play Ramon Delgado tonight. Malisse has lost in the ITC final twice -- to Gambill in 2001 and to Lleyton Hewitt in 1999.
Novak, the No. 2 seed and winner of seven ATP titles -- including two in October -- is playing in his first ITC. Thursday, the No. 1 player from the Czech Republic for six consecutive years easily handled Philipp Kohlschreiber, who was coming off a fourth-round appearance in the Australian Open, 6-2, 6-1.
"I'm playing the best tennis of my life," said Novak, who reached No. 5 in the world in 2002.
Novak will play Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark at 5. Carlsen defeated Brian Vahaly 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
"I came out poorly, but I was able to crawl my way back into the match," Carlsen said.
In their only previous meeting in 1997, Carlsen beat Novak in straight sets in New Zealand.
In Mello's match, he led 2-1 in the first set with two break points on Moodie's serve. But Moodie rallied to win the game and will face Wessels today at 2. In a 2003 Futures match in Glasgow, Moodie beat Wessels in three sets.
Three hours after his loss, Mello was back alongside Moodie as doubles partners, and they were beaten 3-6, 6-7 (4) by Rick Leach and Brian MacPhie in the quarterfinals.
"It was weird to be beside the guy [in the doubles match] who you just lost to [in the singles match]," Mello said.
Michael Russo can be reached at email@example.com