Sebastien Grosjean and Tommy Haas both tossed their back-to-front caps in the ring here for the one place left in next week's Masters Cup in Sydney, and Grosjean's landed the right way round. The Frenchman not only defeated his German rival in Saturday's semi-finals, but he also went on to beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov in yesterday's final to clinch a place in the eight-man draw and relegate Haas to the role of substitute.
Not even Haas would question Grosjean's right to qualify, and Kafelnikov, his place in Sydney assured, managed to swallow the disappointment of once more failing to win a Masters Series title in what was the fifth such final of his career. The Russian was not even fussed when the organisers, in their haste to fête one of their countrymen, left him waiting to receive the runners-up prize.
Kafelnikov, the fourth seed, made the point that the men who denied him in his four previous Masters Series finals – Andrei Medvedev in Hamburg in 1994; Thomas Enqvist here in Paris in 1996; Richard Krajicek in Stuttgart in 1998; and Thomas Johansson in Montreal in 1999 – were all playing the best tennis of their careers. The same can be said of Grosjean, the sixth seed, who defeated Kafelnikov, 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 6-4, in front of 14,000 ecstatic spectators at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy.
The only other ATP Tour title Grosjean has won came at Nottingham last year, although he was defeated by Krajicek in the Key Biscayne final in 1999 and was a semi-finalist at the Australian Open this year. The 23-year-old from Marseilles increased his upper-body strength and power of shot by working in the gym during the summer while recovering from an ankle injury.
He needed to rely on physical resources in the concluding two sets yesterday in fending off Kafelnikov, who had won their three previous matches, most recently in the Marseilles final in February. Grosjean, whose serve is bigger than usual for a player of 5ft 9in, was so consistent in the opening two sets, moving swiftly about the court and delivering punishing groundstrokes, that Kafelnikov did not create a break point until the sixth game of the third set.
Kafelnikov squandered the opportunity, tamely netting a forehand, and paid by losing his serve in the following game to trail 3-4. As the locals prepared to celebrate, however, Kafel-nikov cracked Grosjean's serve with a forehand drive to level at 4-4.
When it came to the third-set tie-break, Grosjean double-faulted for the first time, to 3-4, and Kafelnikov went on to win the shoot-out, 7-5, displaying far more confidence than he did in the first-set tie-break, which he lost 7-3.
Hearts sank when Grosjean called the trainer to massage his left thigh before the start of the fourth set, and again at 2-1, after Kafelnikov had smashed away a break point in the previous game. "I felt a pain in the leg, and it was really difficult, because I was running a lot," Grosjean, said afterwards. "Kafelnikov was playing well, so I was in trouble." But not for much longer.
The Russian saved two more break points, at 3-4, but he was unable to resist Grosjean at 4-5, hitting a forehand wide on the Frenchman's third match point. "I played as good as I could, but the opponent was better," Kafelnikov said. Grosjean became the first Frenchman to win the Paris title since Guy Forget 10 years ago.
"It was great to have the trophy in my hands in front of the French public," Grosjean said. He would love to emulate Forget further by helping France win the Davis Cup under Forget's captaincy. If the cap fits...
* In Santiago, Chile, Marcelo Rios beat Edgardo Massa, of Argentina, 6-4, 6-2 in the Ericsson Cup final yesterday. Although he had won a junior satellite tournament, it was his first professional title in his home country.Reuse content