Tennis: Kafelnikov casts down the gauntlet

By John Roberts in Hanover
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AFTER DEFEATING Sweden's Thomas Enqvist yesterday, 7-5, 3-6, 6- 4, in the round-robin segment of the ATP Tour Championship here, Yevgeny Kafelnikov was reminded that the new world rankings system, due to start in January, has arrived a year too late to spare his blushes as the player who rose without trace.

The Russian, it may be remembered, was elevated to world No 1 last May under the current revolving, 52-week calculations, in spite of losing six consecutive opening-round matches. In future, the men's rankings will be finalised at the end of each calendar year, so whoever wins the Australian Open will lead the race after the first major hurdle.

Given that situation in January this year, Kafelnikov's victory against Enqvist in the singles final at Melbourne Park would have saved confusion as to why the Russian's name was at the head of the list of runners in the ATP Tour rankings.

"I appreciate the new system," Kafelnikov said. "Whoever wins the Australian Open will be No 1 in the race. I think it's quite fair to everybody. Whoever is going to play best at the moment definitely deserves to be in the spotlight."

Kafelnikov, the world No 2, also made the point that it is not easy for six of the eight competitors in Hanover to find room in the spotlight, with Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras hogging the stage. "You guys have to realise it's not only a show between Pete and Andre anymore," he told reporters.

"There are some other guys who also have big names," Kafelnikov went on. "I don't only include myself, but players like Thomas Enqvist, Gustavo Kuerten, the guys who did well this year. You have to pay respect for what they're doing so far. I was pretty embarrassed to watch CNN this morning. As soon as the show started, they had Agassi and Sampras, and then, 20 minutes later, they had a small piece on the rest of the tournament. I care, not only about myself, I care about my fellow players who are making this Tour very successful."

Just as it is obvious why Agassi and Sampras attract the cameras, so it is clear how the other players can change the picture. "I have a desire to prove that I can sneak in between those guys here," Kafelnikov said. "It definitely would be the ideal thing for me to finish the year on such a positive note."

Kafelnikov's third consecutive win of the season against Enqvist provided the spectators with a close finish after sporadic bouts of exciting rallying interspersed with unforced errors by both players.

Although Kafelnikov produced the more impressive shots during the opening set, Enqvist managed to save two break points in the third game and did not waver again until the 11th game, when he was broken to love, missing with a backhand aimed down the line.

Enqvist missed another backhand in the opening game of the second set to lose his serve after leading 40-15. The Swede's response was to break back to love in the next game, and crack Kafelnikov's serve again for 4-2.

Early in the set, Enqvist's concentration was disturbed by a shout from the crowd, and he asked the German umpire, Rudi Berger, to appeal for silence. At the end of the match, the Swede tossed his racket to his chair and had a lengthy conversation with the umpire, unhappy that his request for quiet had gone unheeded.

Kafelnikov, frustrated by not being given a let call in the sixth game, belted the net with his racket. His action seemed to distract Enqvist, who was broken back for 4-3. Kafelnikov was upset again in the next game, but this time with his poor serving, and he hammered a ball to the court after Enqvist broke for 5-3. The Swede then held to level the match after 76 minutes.

Enqvist recovered from 1-4 to 4-4 in the final set, only for Kafelnikov to hold serve in the next game and then make the decisive break after two hours and six minutes.

After that, the spectators raised their voices in support of the local boy, Nicolas Kiefer, who further enhanced his prospects of advancing to the semi-finals by defeating the American Todd Martin, 6-3, 6-2.

Results, Digest, page 31