Tennis: Rafter gets the breaks

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THE WORD in tennis is that Patrick Rafter could be the next great Australian player. He might just be that, but he is also a touch fortunate to have reached the final of the Manchester Open yesterday.

The 21-year-old from Mount Isa, Queensland, had to withstand a ferocious, and unprecedented, grass-court assault from Karel Novacek yesterday before scraping through 6-7, 7-6, 7-6. Indeed, if the tie-break had not

existed the likelihood is they would not have finished a match of total serving supremacy in daylight.

After the first set there was not a single break point and even the final tie-break was settled only because Novacek served a double fault at 5-5 to give Rafter his chance. He seized it with a thunderous serve that his 29-year-old Czech opponent had next to no chance of returning.

It was tough on Novacek who had defied his lack of grass expertise to reach his first semi-final on the surface in his 11-year career. He also

arrived in Didsbury having slumped from 17th to 65th in the rankings during 1994, so he hardly had much in his favour.

Except for his serve that is. 'He has some power,' Rafter said. 'He blitzed my backhand. I don't think he served to my forehand more than four or five times all match and with the ball bouncing every which way there was not much chance of getting it back.'

The victory earns Rafter his second final - the first was in Hong Kong in April - and his second win purely on tie-breaks. The first was against Pete Sampras in Indianapolis last summer.

He also met Wayne Ferreira en route to playing the Wimbledon champion and it is the South African whom he faces in the final today. Ferreira, who has been winner and runner-up at Queen's in the last two years, defeated the holder, Jason Stoltenberg, 6-4, 6-4 in the other semi-final.

He broke Stoltenberg to love in the first game and broke again in the fifth game of the second set. Two breaks, two sets: the match lasted only 64 minutes.