MELBOURNE, Australia -- Australian Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov has had a change of heart about his title defense.
After racing to a 6-1, 6-3, 7-5 fourth-round win over Belgian Christophe Rochus, Kafelnikov said he was growing in confidence. No man has won back-to-back Grand Slam tournaments Down Under since Jim Courier in 1993.
Kafelnikov concedes top-seeded Andre Agassi and No. 3-seeded Pete Sampras are favorites, but with the American pair scheduled to clash in a semifinal, he said his chances were improving.
"I'm not expecting that I'm going to defend my title because the other guys, I feel like they're playing at the moment a lot better than me. But things can change, you know, things might change," said Kafelnikov, who has only dropped one set in the tournament.
"It's good that I'm winning matches in straight sets without wasting energy," he said.
The Russian, who said he wasn't playing well enough before the tournament to be considered a serious contender, will take on Moroccan Younes El Ayanoui in the quarterfinals.
"Before the tournament started, I never felt like I was going to be that far in the tournament. But on the other hand, I also felt like if I could win a couple of matches in a row, I felt like I was going to get back to my normal routine."
HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: The controversial Rebound Ace courts at Melbourne Park have been criticized by some of the men, who claim it helps the big servers. But most of the women don't seem to mind.
For No. 1-seeded Martina Hingis, it's just like being at home.
"We have this (court) at home, it's like the backyard," she said. "I think it goes with my game."
Hingis, who has won three successive Australian Open championships, said the surface suited baseliners and players who rely on a big serve.
"You can be aggressive, you can go from the baseline and have a rally -- everything is possible on this surface," she said.
"Most of the players are saying it's quick, but I like it. I don't care."
Hingis said she had two Rebound Ace courts built in Switzerland and had recently had one installed at her new home at Saddlebrook, Fla.
BITS AND BOBS: Two Spanish players, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez, have reached the quarterfinal round in the same Grand Slam tournament for the 14th time.
The two veterans first appeared in the final eight of a Grand Slam event at the French Open in 1989. Martinez lost in the quarterfinals to Steffi Graf, who went on to fall to Sanchez-Vicario in the final.
On Monday, the 10th-seeded Martinez moved into the quarters of the Australian Open with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Kristina Brandi of the United States. Sanchez-Vicario, seeded 13th, had a much tougher time, beating No. 6 seeded Barbara Schett of Austria 1-6, 6-0, 7-5.
For the first time since 1981, two married women have advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
They are France's Julie Halard-Decugis, the No. 9 seed who has been married to her coach Arnaud Decugis for more than four years, and Elena Likhovtseva, the No. 16 seed who married Mikhail Baranov in September in Las Vegas.
In 1981, Chris Evert Lloyd and Evonne Goolagong Cawley were married when they reached the final eight in Melbourne.
GIRL TALK: Martina Hingis, whose performances faltered last year during a much-publicized break with her mother, says the relationship between the two has never been better.
Hingis' mother, Melanie, has been courtside for all the No. 1 seed's matches in Melbourne.
"We have a lot more conversations and I think myself I learned a lot from what happened and she's just there and she pushes me," Hingis said.
The tennis star said her mother helps with contracts, organizing practice courts, racket-stringing and other chores, allowing her to concentrate on her job, winning matches.
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