Disappointment for Rafter as injury signals painful exit

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The Independent Online

Pat Rafter would have scripted a different ending to what may be the last singles tournament of his career, but a shoulder injury and a confident Frenchman conspired to dash his hopes of going out in a blaze of glory.

The Queenslander's aspirations of reaching the semi-finals of the season-ending Masters Cup here were squashed by Sebastien Grosjean, who beat him 7-6, 6-3 last night. Rafter, who plans to take a long break from tennis after this year, was troubled by a long-standing shoulder problem and received courtside treatment in the second set.

Rafter's fellow Australian, Lleyton Hewitt, fared far better in the preceding match, defeating his boyhood idol, Andre Agassi, 6-3, 6-4 and assuring himself of a place in the semi-finals. The last time he beat Agassi, Hewitt was a raw 16-year-old on the way to winning his first tournament title in Adelaide. Now, four years later, he is the US Open champion and, following his latest victory, only eight points behind Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten in the Champions Race to be top of the rankings at the end of the year.

After being down a break 3-2 in the first set, Hewitt won six games in a row and held his nerve as the older player piled on the pressure. "Agassi is a great player and I knew I had to play my best game if I was going to keep up with him," he said.

The two men traded breaks of serve in the first set; Hewitt then held serve, broke again following an Agassi double fault at 15-40 and served out the set in 40 minutes. In the second set, he set the tone by breaking the American's serve in the first game; Agassi never recovered.

He still has a chance of going through to the semi-finals, depending on the outcome of his match tonight against Grosjean, but he was clearly unhappy with his performance. "With all due respect to the way he played, I think I was a far cry from my best," Agassi said. "I'm quite disappointed with the way I executed my shots."

Hewitt insisted that he was taking the tournament one match at a time rather than setting his sights on the No 1 spot. "I'm not thinking about it," he said. "If it happens, it happens. It would be a great way to finish the year."

Rafter was visibly in pain during his match and said that the shoulder injury could rule him out of the Davis Cup final against France in Melbourne later this month. "It's fair to say there could be doubt, but right now I'm trying to stay as positive as I can with it," he said.

Missing the final would be a bitter blow for Rafter, who has always been passionate about representing Australia in the Davis Cup.

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