Tennis: Repeat defeat for Krajicek in Stuttgart

ANDRE AGASSI, who has been on the losing end of more matches against Thomas Enqvist than he has won, including the semi-final of the Eurocard Open on Saturday, says the Swede hits a different ball than most players: "He handles pace well and delivers pace well."

Richard Krajicek, while not disputing that, would argue that some of Enqvist's shots sail close to the line, and that the Swede's backhand which ended his propects of nudging yesterday's final into a fifth set landed wide.

The Italian umpire, Romano Grillotti, politely disregarded Krajicek's protests; understandably so, since the call was made on the far line.

Krajicek, the defending champion, knows all about far lines at the Schleyer Halle in Stuttgart. In the first of his five indoor finals here, against Germany's Michael Stich in 1993, the Dutchman experienced one of the worst moments of his career.

Serving at match point down, Krajicek was convinced he had hit an ace. So were the majority of spectators and the linesman. But the umpire, Peter Richter, overruled, and the distraught Krajicek was easily passed on his second serve. Richter (the name means judge) did not officiate on the international scene much longer.

Grillotti's decision, on Krajicek's third break point at 5-5 in the fourth set, was reasonable in the circumstances. But Krajicek made no effort to shake the umpire's hand after losing, 6-1, 6-4, 5-7, 7-5.

"When you're hanging in and you get a call like that, it hurts," Krajicek said. "It gives a bad aftertaste to the match. It's a shame in a way. We both are fighting for two and a half hours on the court, and there's a call like that. I'd rather have Thomas hit in, and then I have to say, `Too good'. I think he was playing better than me, but I almost turned it round."

Krajicek, who out-played Britain's Greg Rusedski in straight sets in the semi-finals, had little to show for his efforts yesterday, even though he served 25 aces. The runners-up prize, $198,000 (pounds 121,000) did not make up for losing ground in the race to be among the eight qualifiers for next month's ATP Tour Championship in Hanover.

Yesterday's finalists knew that the winner would end the day $376,000 the richer and be placed number eight in the Hanover race, and that the loser would be at number 10 on the eve of the season's last ATP Tour Super 9 tournament in Paris.

Krajicek, who first won the Eurocard Open in 1995, did well to make even a semblance of a recovery after Enqvist, who won the final set against Agassi 6-0, took the opening five games of the final. In the first two sets he frustrated Krajicek's endeavours with superior play, and the odd touch of luck from the netcord.

But for Krajicek's boldness under fire, Enqvist would have served for the match in the third set. At 4-4, Krajicek saved three break points with aces down the middle and delivered a fourth ace down the centre line to win the game. Three games later, Krajicek broke to win the set on his second set point.

A fifth set seemed in the offing when Krajicek broke for 3-1 in the fourth set. The Dutchman was unable to capitalise on his lead, double-faulting off the net cord on the second break point of the next game. Krajicek may have imagined that was a bad break, but worse followed in the decisive 10th game.

Enqvist, the runner-up to Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov at the Australian Open in January, was delighted with his success yesterday. "This is my best week so far," he said. "I've beaten our top 10 players. I've beaten Agassi when he's hot; [Marcelo] Rios just came from a victory, and Krajicek is a five-time finalist here in Stuttgart. I think this is my best tournament."

n Mary Pierce, the top seed, beat her French compatriot, Sandrine Testud, 7-6, 6-1 to win her first title of the year - the Linz tournament - in Austria yesterday. Testud, the fifth seed, has yet to win a set against Pierce in four meetings, including two this year in Rome and Toronto.

Scores, digest, page 5