Provided Yevgeny Kafelnikov defeats Thomas Johansson, a Swedish opponent who recently recovered from a knee injury, the Russian will become the world No 1 tonight - only the 15th in the 26 years of the ATP rankings, the first from his nation, and the first to be crowned in London (although, as he said, "it wouldn't matter even if it was Ho Chi Minh City").
The 25-year-old from the Black Sea resort of Sochi needs to advance to tomorrow's semi-finals to overtake Pete Sampras, the Wimbledon champion. Sampras has reigned at the top for a total of 260 weeks, interrupted occasionally by Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Thomas Muster, and Marcelo Rios. Only Ivan Lendl (270 weeks) and Jimmy Connors (268 weeks) have superior records.
Rusedski, who lost to Kafelnikov in the semi-finals in Rotterdam last week, is on course to meet the Russian in the final here. On the evidence of his first two matches, particularly last night's performance, the British No 2 is in the mood to keep the appointment.
Having saved four break points in the opening game, Rusedski, the No 3 seed, broke for 3-1 and took the first set in 30 minutes. He had an escape in the fourth game of the second set, when Korda missed a backhand on break point, and then recovered from 0-2 in the tie-break to win, 7- 4, after 81 minutes.
"I was judging the ball well and was mentally fresh," Rusedski said. He will need to stay that way to overcome Enqvist, the No 6 seed, who reached the final of the Australian Open last month, only to lose to Kafelnikov.
Kafelnikov has won pounds 8m in prize money since turning professional in 1992 and, among other status symbols, has a collection of top-of-the-range sports cars. In contrast to Tim Henman, the British No 1, however, Kafelnikov does not have a tennis clothing contract or a portfolio of advertising deals, because he refuses to devote time to photo-shoots. Nor will he involve himself in time-consuming tennis politics by joining the ATP Tour's player council.
"If you want to stay competitive you've got to give yourself 100 per cent to the job, not to doing stuff outside the court," said Kafelnikov, who had predicted a repeat of last week's Rotterdam final against Henman and was surprised to see him lose in the first round to the Slovak, Jan Kroslak.
"If Tim is enjoying doing those things, then it's OK," Kafelnikov added. "But perhaps he could cut his appearance schedule to concentrate and focus on any aspect of his game that is going to improve his performance. I'm sure he's spending enough time on the court, but if he was to spend a little more I'm sure it would help. [Working for sponsors], you give away so much energy. You don't realise that, but it's a fact. If you go to dinners with your sponsors it's really hurting, because have to play next day, you have to concentrate."
According to Kafelnikov, that may also apply to Henman's committee role with the ATP Tour. "I'm sure it's hurting him," the Russian said. "In anything you're involved besides your main job, it's really hurting. You need to have some free time in the evening to go out with your fellow tennis players and feel a little loose, that's understandable. But I just think when you compete in a tournament you just have to stay focused on the job."
Was he advising Henman to spend more time on court in tournaments, or on the practice courts? "Both, I would say, is going to help. He does not play enough clay court tournaments. He obviously plays big ones, like Hamburg and Rome and then the French Open. If you really want to improve your game in general you've got to have a lot of matches on different surfaces. That's how I felt. Even if I was losing three or four times in a row in the first round in the clay court season I still would go back, because I would spend a lot of hours on the clay court, which is going to help me play well in the French Open."
Kafelnikov moved tantalisingly close to the game's summit yesterday with a 6-3, 6-2 win against Byron Black, of Zimbabwe. "I'm probably playing as well as I've ever played," the Russian said. "It's a wonderful feeling. You step on court and feel like you can win every match."
n Goran Ivanisevic has been appointed as the ATP Tour's chairman of players' charities for 1999. "I'm the No 1 guy for paying fines, so they've picked the right guy," Ivanisevic joked, announcing he would also donate pounds 31 for every ace he hits. The fines go to charity, and Ivanisevic contributed pounds 36,250 last year.
Mauresmo in final,
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