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 May 8, 2002 | 1035 IST

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Sampras, Henman crash out, Kuerten through in Rome

Pete Sampras, Tim Henman and Roger Federer were all big first-round casualties on a dismal day for the seeds at the Rome Masters Series tournament on Tuesday.

Sampras, the holder of a record 13 grand slam singles titles, was beaten 6-4 6-7 6-3 by veteran Spaniard Felix Mantilla.

Fifth seed Henman was below his best because of a bout of food poisoning and lost 3-6 7-6 6-0 to Chilean qualifier Fernando Gonzalez while Federer was beaten 6-4 6-4 by Italy's Andrea Gaudenzi.

French Open favourites Gustavo Kuerten and Juan Carlos Ferrero managed to avoid the rout by scoring first-round wins at the $2.3 million clay court event.

Sampras, urged on by the crowd at the Foro Italico, recovered from losing the first set to clinch the second-set tiebreak 7-3 but Mantilla's guile and greater prowess on clay proved too much in the third set.

The Spaniard broke the Sampras serve when the 12th seed double faulted at breakpoint down at 4-3 and went on to serve out the match to love.

"I'm very disappointed I didn't win the match," said Sampras, 30. "I had a few chances, a few opportunities that I didn't take advantage of. He's a very strong player, he hits the ball very deep, very heavy and doesn't miss much. He played a solid clay-court match like I thought he would."

Clay continues to be the American's Achilles heel. He has never won the French Open and though he won the title in Rome in 1994, this was the second year running he had failed to make it past the first round.

Henman, who reached the semifinals of the first clay-court Masters Series event of the year in Monte Carlo, required treatment for food poisoning before and during his match against Gonzalez.

"I'm certainly not feeling my best," said a pale-faced Henman. "My stomach didn't feel quite right and I haven't eaten for quite some time. There's not a lot inside me and hence not a lot of energy. To tell you the truth, after the first game I was pretty exhausted."

The Briton said he had never considered retiring from the match, despite feeling ill.

"I don't really like that. I feel like if you start a match you should do your best to finish it but I knew my chances were diminishing."

Swiss 11th seed Federer looked uncomfortable in the breezy, cool conditions while Gaudenzi made the most of the partisan crowd's support to win.

Former champion Kuerten, playing only his second tournament since he underwent hip surgery at the end of February, beat Italy's Davide Sanguinetti 7-5 6-4.

The Italian briefly threatened Kuerten in the first set but, hampered by a toe injury, Sanguinetti was powerless to stop the three-times French Open champion once the Brazilian found his range.

Kuerten has reached the final in Rome for the past three years, lifting the trophy in 1999.

Third seed Ferrero made smooth progress through to the second round when his opponent, Germany's Rainer Schuettler, was forced to retire midway through the second set with pain in his right groin.

After receiving advice and treatment from the ATP trainer, Schuettler threw in the towel when the Spaniard was leading 6-2 4-3.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, seeded fourth, also had a easy start, earning his second-round place when Franco Squillari was forced to retire with illness with the Russian leading 6-1 2-0.

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