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Agassi loses fifth straight; Williams, 16, ousts Capriati

Andre Agassi should be thankful he doesn't need money, because he's not making much lately by playing.

Agassi, the two-time defending champion at the Lipton Championships, lost his opening match Saturday to Scott Draper 7-6 (7-5), 6-1. The defeat was Agassi's fifth in a row, his worst slump.

In other men's play, Adrian Voinea warmed up to the theme from Mission: Impossible, then lost to top-ranked Pete Sampras 6-2, 6-0. Second-seeded Thomas Muster and No. 3 Michael Chang also advanced to the third round. Seeds eliminated included No. 6 Thomas Enqvist, No. 13 Felix Mantilla, No. 14 Tim Henman, No. 15 Marc Rosset and No. 16 Alberto Berasategui.

No. 10 Boris Becker, bothered by a wrist injury since summer, withdrew before his opening match.

In women's play, 16-year-old Venus Williams rallied from a 5-1 deficit to beat Jennifer Capriati 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-2.

"The phenom against the ex-phenom," Capriati termed the match.

Williams' opponent in the third round today will be another 16-year-old, top-ranked Martina Hingis.

"She's been around town and the world," Williams said. "She's a globetrotter. I'm ready to play."

Anna Kournikova, at 15 the youngest player in the tournament, beat No. 12 Amanda Coetzer 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Two other women's seeds were eliminated in their opening matches. No. 9 Karina Habsudova lost to Natasha Zvereva 6-4, 6-3, and No. 15 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy was beaten by Tatiana Panova 1-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4.

Motivation may be a problem for Agassi, a 26-year-old multimillionaire, but he denies it.

"I'm not tired," he said. "I'm not through."

Still, Agassi's career has become a celebrity tour: one match and on to the next stop.

He has failed to win a set in the past six weeks, losing to Greg Rusedski, Gustavo Kuerten, Javier Sanchez, Mark Philippoussis and Draper. His ranking slipped from eighth at the beginning of the year to 13th, and now he'll drop out of the top 20.

In 1995, Agassi won 73 matches. This year he has won three.

Against Draper, a 22-year-old ranked 79th, Agassi played as if he were double-parked. He lost his serve at love in the final game, and the lackluster performance prompted speculation that he tanked the second set.

Agassi said poor shot selection is at the root of his trouble.

"I wish sometimes I believed in myself out there as much as most people believe in my capabilities," he said. "I'm second-guessing myself a lot out there. It's something I'm going to have to get through."

Because Agassi has lost his opening match in four consecutive tournaments, he has played just eight times this year, making it difficult to shake the slump.

"It feels like a real vicious cycle at the moment," he said. "I need to get through some of these tough ones to start putting it together."

Said Draper: "Andre is struggling for confidence at the moment, and a lot of guys have been beating him."

ST. PETERSBURG OPEN: Thomas Johansson outserved and beat top-seeded Michael Stich 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals in Russia.

Johansson, the fifth seed, faces seventh-seeded Renzo Furlan today. Furlan defeated Jan Kroslak 6-3, 6-3.

Stich blamed his loss, at least partly, on conditions at the St. Petersburg sports complex, which he said was overcrowded.

"There were too many people, the spectators were moving all the time, and it interfered with my game," Stich said.

"To be honest, Johansson played better, and he had a better serve, and he was in a better mood."