Rafter's resilience

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Petr Korda rarely does things in the conventional way. Either he is to be seen leaping to execute scissor-kicks of delight, spraying shots wide of the target, producing breathtaking winners, or staggering about the court as though ready for the infirmary. Yesterday the skinny left-hander from the Czech Republic treated spectators at Munich's Olympic Hall to an entertaining repertoire in the semi-finals of the $6m (pounds 4m) Compaq Grand Slam Cup.

Pat Rafter was on the opposite side of the net on this occasion, and the Australian had to go through a maze before advancing to today's final, 7-5 3-6 6-7 7-6 9-7, producing a winning lob on his fourth match point after saving three. He is guaranteed $1m as a finalist.

Two weeks ago the 24-year-old Australian was on his way to winning the United States Open title, defeating Britain's Greg Rusedski in the final. Many people felt that the Australian's success was aided in no small part by Korda's five-set victory against Sampras in the fourth round.

Two other of Korda's five-setters against the world No 1 also stick in the mind. One was in the fourth round at Wimbledon in July, when he came closest to halting the American's impressive run to the title. Another was here in the Grand Slam Cup semi-final in 1993, when both Korda and Sampras tottered about the court like hospital cases after the Czech defeated Sampras, 13-11 in the final set. Remarkably, Korda recovered from his cramping to win the final next day against Germany's Michael Stich, 11-9 in the fifth set.

That match against Stich took three hours and 48 minutes, and was the longest final since the Grand Slam Cup was inaugurated in 1990. Yesterday, it appeared that Korda and Rafter were determined to stay on court all day.

Rafter, who experienced the most fulfiling two weeks of his career at the US Open and then experienced a let down playing for Australia in their losing Davis Cup semi-final against the United States in Washington DC, picked up his form again on arriving in Munich directly from America last Monday with straight set wins against Austria's Thomas Muster and the Chilean Marcelo Rios.

In the opening phase of yesterday's match, the athletic Australian serve- volleyer appeared to have a slight edge against Korda. But having broken for 3-2, Rafter was interrupted by Korda's returns of serve in the 10th game. Rafter broke back for 6-5, and then managed to save three break points to hold for the set, 7-5. A double fault put Rafter in jeopardy in that game, and more service errors were to disturb him again as the match proceeded.

As in the opening set, Rafter broke for 3-2 in the second set, and seemed to have rediscovered the confidence to push on to victory. However, he double-faulted with a game point for 4-2, and Korda was able to level for 3-3. That was the signal for a Korda revival. The Czech broke for 5-3 and held to take the set with a trademark backhand pass on his second set point after one hour and 23 minutes.

Rafter was now the man under pressure. He saved three break points in the ninth game of the third set but was unable to combat Korda's accuracy in the tie-break, which the Czech won, 7-4. Rafter's serve was under threat from midway through the fourth set. He saved two break points in the sixth game, another in the eighth, and seemed about to capitulate when serving with Korda leading, 6-5.

Precise serving and less successful returning by his opponent enabled Rafter to save three match points and force another tie-break. The Australian was the more commanding this time, producing two consecutive aces to win the shoot out, 7-4, and level the contest after three hours and 17 minutes.