Ferreira wins one for 'Old Balls' brigade

Arriving in Stuttgart for theEurocard Open, the 29-year-old Wayne Ferreira said: "Last week, I was ready to give up the year and go on holiday. This week, I'm ready to play forever." He wasn't kidding.

Arriving in Stuttgart for theEurocard Open, the 29-year-old Wayne Ferreira said: "Last week, I was ready to give up the year and go on holiday. This week, I'm ready to play forever." He wasn't kidding.

Having duelled with Australia's Lleyton Hewitt - 10 years his junior - for four hours and 11 minutes yesterday, the longest Masters Series final of the year, Ferreira won his 14th singles title, and the first for more than four years.

As the struggle wore on, we half expected Hewitt's girlfriend, Kim Clijsters, to arrive in the arena, having walked from Leipzig, where she had won a WTA Tour event earlier in the afternoon.

Ferreira's longevity is well-known, but his record in the more prestigious tournaments is as speckled as his freckled features. The South African has competed in the last 40 Grand Slam championships, his best performance being a semi-final at the 1992 Australian Open. The same year, he won his first tour title, at London's Queen's Club.

Before yesterday, Ferreira's last title, in Toronto in 1996, was also his only success at Masters Series level. In returning to the winners' rostrum, he struck a blow for the "oldies" against the heavily promoted "New Balls Please" brigade, of which Hewitt is a prominent member.

There is no reason for Hewitt to feel he has let the side down after losing one of the season's great tussles, 7-6, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, and he can be forgiven for tiring at the end of such a demanding week. In advancing to his first Masters Series, Hewitt, the No 8 seed, had beaten three serve-volleyers - Richard Krajicek, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski - as well as outlasting Yevgeny Kafelnikov, a fellow all-court player.

Hewitt said he was still recovering from a viral infection that had affected him in Basle the previous week. In which case, his rivals had better watch out when he is bouncing around the court fully fit.

If there was one concession to Ferreira's age, it was in being fortunate to play two suffering players en route to the final - Sweden's Thomas Enqvist was not 100 per-cent fit in the second round and Australia's Mark Philippoussis retired with a neck injury after the opening game in the third round.

But yesterday, whatever Hewitt's state of well-being on the other side of the net, Ferreira had to fight for every point to earn the opportunity to dominate the final set as he did.

Ferreira lost the opening two games in each of the first two sets, forcing a tie-break in the first, which he won 8-6, an hour into the match, but finding Hewitt too lively to catch in the second set.

Although Hewitt extended his lead to 2-1 in sets, the third practically drained him. The Australian again won the opening two games, Ferreira double-faulting to donate the second, and soared into a 5-1 lead on a run of seven games out of eight.

Broken when serving for the set, after double faulting to 30-40 in the seventh game, Hewitt was unable to convert any of six set points - one with Ferreira serving at 5-2, and five more with Ferreira serving at 5-4. However, Hewitt recovered from 1-3 in the tie-break, winning the sixth point with a marvellous backhand flick, and took his seventh set point, driving a shot which his opponent could only lob over the baseline. Both players saved two break points on the way to the fourth set tie-break, in which Ferreira won the last five points from 2-2, and Hewitt was little more than a shadow boxer after double-faulting to lose the opening game of the final set.

"I think match fitness was the biggest difference," Hewitt said. "I definitely wasted an opportunity at 5-1 [in the third set]. To Wayne's credit, though, he put a lot of pressure on my serve."

Ferreira was ecstatic. "This will have to go down as probably the best week ever, just considering my last three years," he said. "This year I didn't really give myself a chance to win something like this."

Especially with the "New Balls Please" brigade on the rampage? "They should have an 'Old Balls' one too, I guess."

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