Mirnyi cashes in on basics

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The Independent Online

Max Mirnyi, from Minsk, has what some observers would call a basic game, tailored by his father and coach, Nikolai, to suit his advantages of height and fitness: he serves with power and charges the net at every opportunity. On the evidence of his displays in the Masters Series tournament here this week, Mirnyi's lack of complication promises to take him a long way.

We may see his first major step today when he encounters Tommy Haas, backed by the German public, in the Stuttgart final. Haas, who eliminated Britain's Tim Henman in the quarter-finals, yesterday accounted for Lleyton Hewitt, the US Open champion, 3-6 6-4 7-5.

Mirnyi's progress en route to the final has been startling. He began by saving two match points against Jan Vacek in the first round of the qualifying event. He saved two match points against Gustavo Kuerten, the world No 1, in the second round of the main draw, and saved two more in overcoming Goran Ivanisevic, the Wimbledon champion, in the third round.

To follow that, Mirnyi took advantage of Pete Sampras's ailing right arm to defeat the seven-times Wimbledon champion in the quarter-finals, and yesterday he eliminated Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, 7-6 6-3. Kafelnikov, who double-faulted twice in succession to lose serve in the third game of the opening set, broke back for 3-3, but could only win three points in the tie-break. Kafelnikov made his frustration obvious on the way to losing his serve for 1-3 in the second set, and received a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct after hitting a ball into the crowd.

Although recovering the break in the next game, Kafelnikov immediately lost his serve again for 2-4, Mirnyi winning the most spectacular point of the match at 30-40 – Kafelnikov twice blocking mighty drives and returning a lob through his legs, only to see Mirnyi arrive at the net and finesse a drop volley.

Mirnyi's push through the rankings – 24 places to No 30 in the Champions' Race – comes as no surprise to Kafelnikov. "It's logical," he said. "He's putting in a lot of hard work, and it's paying off. He's 24, but he has belief, and if he that, he's going to accomplish what he wants. He's doing that quite successfully."

Mirnyi has the power to overcome Haas this afternoon, although the German has shown here that he has spirit as well as skills. Against Hewitt, he recovered from a shaky opening set to nudge out the Australian, who would have supplanted Gustavo Kuerten at the head of the Champions' Race if he had won the title.