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Qualifier gives Sampras another early exit

Pete Sampras' two-year slide reached another low Monday, when he lost to Chilean qualifier Fernando Gonzalez 7-6 (7-1), 6-1 in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open.

The upset made it 24 tournaments in a row without a title for Sampras since he won a record seventh Wimbledon championship in July 2000.

Gonzalez, perhaps the hardest hitter on the men's tour, dominated after falling behind 4-1 in the first set. Sampras, often late reaching volleys, won only 22 of 48 points at the net and struggled with his service returns.

"It wasn't a good day. I got outplayed," Sampras said. "I just have to get back to work and not panic, and look at the big picture and the rest of the year. It's not the way I wanted it to go this week. But we've got a few more big events coming up."

The No. 11-seeded Sampras, a three-time champion at Key Biscayne, fell to 10-5 this year.

Marat Safin barely avoided an upset against another South American qualifier, Luis Horna of Peru. Safin broke a racket in anger, drew a point penalty for another outburst, twice blew a third-set lead and still managed to win, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3).

"I played bad," the No. 6-seed said. "Just wasn't my day. But I was there. I fight. I'm not satisfied with my game, but I'm satisfied with my win, the way I fought."

The victory advanced Safin to the fourth round, where he'll face Gonzalez.

James Blake, whose ranking has risen to 49th from 187th in the past year, beat No. 15 Guillermo Canas 6-4, 6-3. No. 4 Tommy Haas lost to Andrei Pavel 7-6 (7-6), 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (8-6).

In women's play, second-seeded Venus Williams needed just 44 minutes to beat No. 14 Amanda Coetzer 6-2, 6-0. Williams hit 26 winners to two for Coetzer.

No. 3 Martina Hingis reached the quarterfinals by beating Alexandra Stevenson 6-2, 6-0. Hingis has lost four games in three matches.

No. 12 Elena Dementieva erased six match points in a third-set tiebreaker to beat Anne Kremer 1-6, 7-5, 7-6 (16-14). No. 4 Kim Clijsters swept Cara Black 6-4, 6-2.

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