Kafelnikov defeat offers Henman hope

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The Independent Online
Tim Henman will have taken some comfort from Yevgeny Kafelnikov's defeat in the final of the Halle grass-court tournament in Germany yesterday.

Kafelnikov, the No 5 seed at Wimbledon and the British No 1's first-round opponent tomorrow, lost to Sweden's Nicklas Kulti, who came back from a set down against the French Open champion.

Kulti, the 1989 Wimbledon and Australian Open junior champion who had come through the qualifying tournament in Halle, produced solid serve- and-volley tennis and pounced on lapses by the Russian No 2 seed to run out a 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 winner.

Kafelnikov, playing with a bandaged left knee to protect a slight muscle strain, fended off four match points against Kulti on his own service at 3-5 in the final set.

But Kulti, who beat the Wimbledon hopeful Richey Reneberg in the semi- final, produced his 12th and 13th aces and a service winner to go to 40-30 in the final game. Kafelnikov then netted a return as he went for broke on yet another big Kulti service.

The 6ft 3in Kulti had to play eight singles matches in nine days, including qualifying matches, to reach the final.

The win gives Kulti his third title since turning professional in 1989. He had previously won at Adelaide, Australia, in 1992 and 1993. Kulti is the second qualifier to win an ATP tournament this year in Germany, after Roberto Carretero pulled off the trick at the German Open in Hamburg in May.

"Naturally I didn't come to Halle expecting to win, but the longer I was here, the more I started believing in it," Kulti said after the match.

Alberto Berasategui, the Spanish No 5 seed and runner-up at the French Open two years ago , cruised to a 6-3, 6-4 victory over the top-seeded Carlos Costa in the final of the Carisbo International tournament in Bologna.

Berasategui, who lost in the Carisbo finals in 1994, needed just one hour, 12 minutes to put away his fellow Spaniard. Berasategui dominated with strong serves that disrupted Costa's game.

Andres Gomez defeated defending champion Jimmy Connors, 6-1, 6-3, on Saturday to advance to the finals of The Challenge at the Beach and Tennis Club at Pebble Beach, California. Gomez, of Ecuador, faces John McEnroe for the singles title of the four-player event.

It was the first straight-sets victory ever for Gomez over Connors in a rivalry dating back to 1981. Connors leads their personal series 13- 4, but Gomez has won three of their six meetings on the Nuveen Tour for players 35 and older.

Gomez, 36, the Nuveen points-standings leader, used his service power and groundstrokes to keep Connors, 43, on the defensive.

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