Kuerten's class subdues Safin

Justifying his billing as the top seed, Gustavo Kuerten won his first career hard-court trophy with a 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 victory over the Russian No 3 seed Marat Safin - who knocked out Tim Henman in the semi-finals - at the RCA Championships here on Sunday.

Justifying his billing as the top seed, Gustavo Kuerten won his first career hard-court trophy with a 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 victory over the Russian No 3 seed Marat Safin - who knocked out Tim Henman in the semi-finals - at the RCA Championships here on Sunday.

Kuerten, who had lost his two previous hard-court finals, now leads the ATP Tour's Champions' points race going into the forthcoming US Open. "This is great, my confidence is just so high now for the US Open," said the Brazilian, whose previous eight titles, including two French Opens, came on clay. "I'm going to be well prepared with a lot of confidence because I just won here."

Kuerten still trails Safin 3-2 in their meetings, but has won both of their matches this year, including their final meeting at the Tennis Masters Series in Hamburg.

"We play kind of the same game, we like to play hard, big serve, we don't have too much breaks, so the sets are always tight," the Brazilian added. "He knows how to play me and I know how to play him too. So the match gets into sort of a situation that who makes one or two more mistakes more than the other can lose the match."

Neither player seemed to be playing their best tennis except in brief patches during the match. Nevertheless, the match was a highly competitive contest and was extremely entertaining for the crowd. By the end of this two-hour, 19-minute encounter, it was Kuerten who played aggressively when needed, but was also able to temper that with playing safely when it seemed the wiser strategy.

According to Safin, who was the stronger player in the first set and seemed in position to be able to take the second set tie-break for the win, he took too many chances. "I cannot understand how can I make so nice a present to a person," he said. "Plus, I give him points, I give him money. It was like a Christmas present. Sometimes you just have to play a little bit more simple."

Kuerten was the stronger player in both tie-breaks. In the second set tie-break the Brazilian raced into a 5-2 lead that Safin could not overhaul. Then, in the deciding set, Safin went 3-1 behind, but broke Kuerten in the sixth game to draw back level.

In the decisive tie-break, Kuerten again was outstanding winning four points in a row with some stunning shots to clinch the title.

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