Moroccan tennis star Hicham Arazi bowed out of the AXA Cup Tennis Tournament on Wednesday, losing his composure along the way.
Arazi, the tournament's number eight seed, fell to Frenchman Fabrice Santoro 4-6, 3-6. Arazi became increasingly frustrated by the way in which the match unfolded. He eventually received a warning violation from the umpire for unsportsmanlike conduct after a series of verbal outbursts, and racket and ball abuse. Much of his frustration, however, stemmed from his opponent's play. Santoro is a crafty veteran of the professional tour whose unorthodox style often throws his opponents off their game. The Frenchman hits with two hands on both his forehand and backhand, allowing him to disguise his groundstrokes until the last possible moment.
Arazi was joined on the sidelines by third seed and hometown hero Tim Henman. For the second consecutive year, Hemnan lost in the opening round of the tournament, succumbing this time to Argentina's Mariano Zabaleta, 6-7 (3-7), 5-7. Ultimately, the match's outcome was decided by Zabaleta's ability to raise his level of play during key points. In the 11th game of the second set, Henman had three breakpoints that would have given him a 6-5 lead, but failed to capitalize on any of them. Instead, Zabaleta held his serve and then broke Henman in the next game to seal the match.
While the Argentine may have been a relatively anonymous personality to the London crowd, he does not lack credentials. Zabaleta was once the world's top-ranked junior player and had defeated Henman in their only previous encounter in Hamburg last year. Although disappointed by his performance, Henman managed to keep things in perspective. "In the big scheme of things it's not the end of the world," Henman said. "All the good work is not going to pot. I have to make sure I keep working and the upward curve will continue."
One of the tournament's most dangerous players is sixth seed and world number 10 Cedric Pioline of France. Pioline defeated Henman in the finals of last week's Rotterdam tournament, and continued his impressive play by squeaking past Spaniard Alberto Martin 7-5, 7-6. On his good days, the talented Parisian is capable of knocking off any player in the world. However, a lack of mental focus has caused him to succumb to numerous inferior opponents during the course of his career. Next in line for Pioline is American Jeff Tarango, who beat Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden 7-5, 6-4.
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