CASABLANCA, Morocco, April 8 (UPI) -- Top seed and defending champion Younes El Aynaoui barely avoided adding his name to the list of top players making first-round exits from the the Grand Prix Hassan II claycourt event.
The Morocccan rallied past Spain's Albert Montanes, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, Tuesday at the $375,000 tournament, but three seeded players fell as the rash of upsets continued.
El Aynaoui is having a strong season, reaching the quarterfinal at the Australian Open and the Nasdaq-100 Open -- taking the winners of both matches to the limit. He is coming off a pair of wins in Morocco's Davis Cup tie with Italy.
Second seed Paul-Henri Mathieu of France and his countryman third-seeded Arnaud Clement, along with No. 5 Olivier Rochus of Belgium, joined No. 6 Fernando Vicente and No. 8 Andre Sa of Brazil as first-round losers. The tournament also lost seventh seed Sargis Sargsian due to travel problems.
Mathieu, playing in only his second match of the year because of injuries, endured a 6-2, 6-4 defeat to fellow Frenchman Jean-Rene Lisnard.
"It's been hard being out for four months with the injury," said the 21-year-old Mathieu, who won the first two titles of his career at the end of last year. "Last year, I played qualifying here and reached the quarters and I was hoping to play here like I was playing at the end of last season, but it's been tough coming back. He also played well."
Clement fell, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, to Brazilian Fernando Meligeni. He had just two hours of practice on the clay and a half hour to warm up Tuesday after coming from France's Davis Cup quarterfianls tie on hard courts in Toulouse.
"There were a lot of good things from the match today," Clement said. "I didn't have a lot of time on the clay after this weekend. In the beginning of the third (set), I wasn't moving my legs. I was trying to win points without moving and that was a mistake. It was a little better at the end of the third set, but by then it was too late."
Meligeni will play local product Hicham Arazi in the second round. Arazi, who clinched Morocco's victory over Italy on Sunday in Marrakesh in the fifth and final rubber, posted a 6-1, 7-6 (14-12) win over his countryman, wild card Mehdi Tahiri.
"It was hard coming off that emotional Davis Cup victory and I don't think I had much time to take a break," said Arazi, the 1997 winner here. "I'm planning on resting tomorrow and being ready for my second round match."
Tahiri dropped to 0-7 lifetime at this event.
"I really thought I was going to win that second set tiebreak (he had two set points) but I felt a little bit of a cramp and that's why I was taking my time between points," he said. "Hicham was recovering better between points and that is something I need to work on."
Rochus was eliminated, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, by Argentine qualifier Federico Browne, who won his first ATP match since 2001 and sixth of his career.
Fourth seed Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia avoided the upset bug with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) victory got past Moroccian wild card Mounir El Aarej, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).
Also, French qualifier Eric Prodon claimed his first ATP match win, 7-6 (7-5), over lucky loser Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo of Spain; France's Olivier Mutis beat Dutch qualifier Dennis Van Scheppingen, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3; Attila Savolt of Hungary got past qualifier Oscar Hernandez of Spain, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5); and France's Julien Boutter defeated Italy's Davide Sanguinetti, 7-5, 7-6 (7-0).
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