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KORDA OUSTED FROM AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Petr Korda walked away with a salute to a cheering crowd, his Australian Open reign over but the drug controversy around him still festering.

With no small measure of irony, the man who sent Korda packing in the wee hours today was Todd Martin, the ATP players council president who wanted him banned for a year for testing positive for an anabolic steroid.

It was a luminous match overshadowed by the lingering drug case, a controversy that Korda and Martin could neither ignore nor let interfere with their business on court.

But at 1 a.m., when Martin's 29th ace and final service winner ended Korda's reign at the Australian Open, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 5-7, 6-4, the two shook hands in mutual respect and spoke of the issue threatening the integrity of tennis.

"I told him that I thought he had dealt with the whole thing very well here," Martin said. "To be able to come out and play that caliber of tennis, I thought was pretty admirable, regardless of anybody's opinion on the doping issue."

Korda, who tested positive for Nandrolone at Wimbledon last year but received a lenient punishment criticized by most players, thanked Martin, then walked off the court applauding the nearly 14,000 fans cheering him.

"It's just nice that he hasn't reacted too much to some of the players' outcry against him," Martin said. "I don't necessarily agree with the (appeals) committee's decision to allow him to keep playing. But it's the way our rule is . . . and I have to respect that, and therefore respect Petr when he walks out on the court."

There had been, to be sure, a few in the crowd during the match who yelled "stupid things," as Martin described them, such as taunting Korda to "get back on drugs."

But the Czech, playing on his 31st birthday, kept his mind on the match and pushed the 15th-seeded American to the limit for 3 1/2 hours.

"I think I played a great match, and I had my head up," Korda said. "Todd was just better than I was. He played a few crucial points better than I did. That's life.

"I said in the beginning I'll defend my title the best way I can, and I think I did that today."

Martin, riding a 13-match winning streak that has brought him two titles and put him into the fourth round of this grand slam event, relied on his potent serve and strong baseline game to notch his 300th career victory.

Slovakia's Karol Kucera still hasn't had to stretch himself. Kucera kept his perfect record intact today, advancing to the quarterfinals with a straight-sets win over South African Wayne Ferreira.

The seventh-seeded Kucera and fifth-seeded Andre Agassi are the only players left in the men's draw not to have lost a set and are seeded to meet in the final.

Kucera's 6-3, 6-1, 7-5 win over Ferreira set up a quarterfinal against Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti, who reached a new stratosphere with his victory over Australia's Andrew Ilie. The No. 91-ranked Lapentti had never been past the second round in his 11 previous Grand Slam tournaments, but overcame the emotional Ilie in four sets.

Kucera, coached by Miloslav Mecir, was guarded about his chances of surpassing his previous best Grand Slam performance here last year.

"I just hope I can win the next one, but I don't think about the title," Kucera said. "It's very open, there's no big favorite."

Kucera was beaten in the semifinals here last year by eventual champion Petr Korda. It was his only semi in 20 Slams.

Ferreira had a letdown after an epic battle late Friday night, when he came back from two sets down to beat No. 9 seed Richard Krajicek.

"I was a step too slow to get everywhere," Ferreira said. "He moves so well and he's playing good tennis, he's got the game to win here."

While Kucera has cruised, Lapentti has needed to scrap all the way. He had cramps in the third set of today's 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 win.

"Kucera's a very tough player. It's going to be very tough for me to win because I'll need to fight for every point against him," Lapentti said. "I've played much longer matches than he has played, that makes a difference."

Lapentti, who knocked out No. 16 seed Thomas Johansson in the first round, had an impressive junior career, reaching semis at the French and U.S. Opens.

Switzerland's Marc Rosset, playing his first Slam since a lucky escape from death after last year's U.S. Open, continued to impress with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over Czech Bohdan Ulihrach.

Rosset canceled his seat on the Swissair flight from New York, which crashed killing 229 people. Today's win followed his third-round victory over Britain's No. 6 seed Tim Henman.

In the women's fourth round, American Venus Williams, seeded fifth, beat compatriot Chanda Rubin, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, and Amelie Mauresmo beat French compatriot Emilie Loit, 6-0, 7-5.

Williams was given a solid workout by Rubin on the Melbourne Park Center Court but ultimately proved too strong on the big points.

With her beaded hair rattling in the wind, Williams fought back from a break down to force the opening set into a tie-break, which she won, 7-3.

She grabbed a break of her own midway through the second set before Rubin squared it. Williams then stamped her authority on the match as she broke Rubin for a third time before serving out to claim victory.

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