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Out of sorts Stepanek crashes out in Memphis

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:54

Its been a funny old start to the year for Radek Stepanek, who tumbled out of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships at the first hurdle after falling 7-6(5), 7-5 to world No.99 Ernests Gulbis.

No spring chicken at 31, Stepanek’s recent results appear more in line with his age than his ranking after the world No.14 slipped to a third opening round defeat in as many tournaments.

Though the Czech made the final of the Brisbane International in January, Gael Monfils proved to be his only scalp inside the top 100 and he was brushed aside by the sterner test of world No.7 Roddick in the final.

And after falling to Ivo Karlovic in an epic five-setter in the first round of the Australian Open, the former Wimbledon quarter-finalist followed up with a nightmare start to the defence of his San Jose title, losing to world No.102 Xavier Malisse.

“In the rallies I just tried to change the rhythm a little bit to go stronger, shorter, higher; Stepanek doesnt like those kinds of things. – Gulbis

A finalist last year, Stepanek had no better luck in Memphis and a slide down the rankings now looks inevitable after Gulbis bundled the No.3 seed out in yet another shock opening round defeat. Like a growing list of other players at this moment in time, Gulbis has Stepanek sussed.

“In the rallies I just tried to change the rhythm a little bit to go stronger, shorter, higher; [Stepanek] doesn’t like those kinds of things,” said the Latvian after his victory.

But while Stepanek struggles for form, the Belgian who caused his upset in San Jose continues to move from strength to stength.

Stunning four-time champion Tommy Haas 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in Memphis, 29-year-old Xavier Malisse clinched his second victory over a top 20 player in as many weeks to continue his positive return to the game after being hit with a suspension for missing drugs tests last year.

“Overall I am happy,” said Malisse, who will face big serving Croat Ivo Karlovic in the next round.

“I served well and played aggressive. I think he lost the match a little in the third set when he double faulted three times in the one game and I got back into it and started playing better again.”

And after being told that his next opponent had thundered 32 aces in his first-round win, referring to Karlovic’s mammoth serve, the Belgian quipped; “I’ll try to keep him down to 29. It’s not impossible to break…

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