Wild cards can be deadly, as Goran Ivanisevic proved once again last night, beating the top-ranked Gustavo Kuerten in the first upset of the season-ending Masters Cup.
Try as he might, the Brazilian could not break Ivanisevic's powerful serve and he succumbed 6-2, 6-7, 6-4 in his first outing to defend his title. The Wimbledon champion had 10 break points against him, but walloped ace after ace in response.
At last year's Masters in Lisbon, Kuerten overcame a 75-point deficit to win the Champions Race, defeating Russia's Marat Safin in the final. While this season has been his best overall, he has had a miserable run since the US Open, losing seven of his last eight matches.
The French Open champion, who has Australia's Lleyton Hewitt snapping at his heels for the No 1 spot, struggled to explain his indifferent form. "The first set, I don't know what I was doing out there," he said. "I'm always behind, so it makes it easier for him to go for his shots and his serving." He added: "This surface is not the best for me... I'm a little tired from playing all the time. It's the end of the year and I can't keep the same rhythm from the beginning to the end." Yevgeny Kafelnikov, meanwhile, blamed jet-lag and an excessively high net at the Sydney Superdome for his slow start against the young Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, whom he went on to beat 4-6, 6-1, 7-6. The Russian complained to court officials and the net was adjusted after an inspection showed it had been set two inches too high.
The 137-minute match was woefully attended, with the 17,500-seat Superdome less than one-third full. The crowd swelled to about 8,000 for the Kuerten-Ivanisevic tie as chanting Brazilian and Croatian fans decamped from the bar.
The 25-year-old Kuerten lost his serve in the second game of the first set, but twice served to stay in the match in the second set and took it to a tie-breaker, which he won 7-2.
In the decider, Ivanisevic – who qualified for the Masters by virtue of his first Grand Slam win – saved five break points in the second game and three in the sixth, the latter with a trio of aces. Kuerten looked glum. Ivanisevic's 28th ace gave him match point, which he clinched with a backhand cross-court volley.
The 30-year-old Croat was jubilant. The world looks a different place from this time last year, when he lost in the first round of the Australian Open qualifiers in Sydney. Even a niggling toe injury – he stubbed it in the shower last week – failed to dampen his spirits.
The toe had bothered him during the match, "but I fly too far to give up, so I had to fight for every point". There is no prospect of him repeating that particular injury; he now sits down in the shower.Reuse content