Top-seeded Kuerten reaches RCA finals

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It didn't appear likely at first, but Gustavo Kuerten found a way to beat Lleyton Hewitt in the RCA Championships semifinals in Indianapolis.

It didn't appear likely at first, but Gustavo Kuerten found a way to beat Lleyton Hewitt in the RCA Championships semifinals in Indianapolis.

The top-seeded Brazilian, who hadn't played Hewitt before, fell behind 5-2 in the first set Saturday before he gained control of the match and finished with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over the fifth-seeded Australian.

"I took a little while to see what was better for me to do," Kuerten said. "As soon as I break him, I was serving much better from that moment on, and I was having a chance in almost every game he was serving."

Kuerten, previously known as a clay-court specialist, seeks his first hardcourt title in Sunday's finale of the dlrs 870,000 ATP Tour event. The ATP Champions Race leader will play Marat Safin of Russia at the Indianapolis Tennis Center.

Safin held serve throughout his match in eliminating seventh-seeded Tim Henman of Britain 7-5, 6-4. If Safin wins, he'll tie Hewitt for the tour lead in titles this season with five.

Kuerten won the last five games of the first set, then repeated the effort in the second set by holding serve in the fourth game and breaking Hewitt in the fifth game.

"I think he felt a little bit of pressure that I was really playing well, and things really started to change when I got the break in the second set," Kuerten said.

Hewitt, 19, who hadn't lost a set until Saturday, admitted the ninth game of the first set proved his undoing.

With the score tied 15-15, Hewitt hit one forehand out, another into the net, then missed wide on a passing shot. Suddenly, he was broken.

Kuerten easily held service in the 10th game, then staved off five game points in the next game en route to breaking Hewitt again.

"It was just a big momentum swing at that time in the match, because I felt pretty much in control," Hewitt said.

Hewitt's sudden struggles with his forehand, the wind and an improving Kuerten proved too much.

After the two had battled for 63 minutes in the first set, Kuerten needed just 33 minutes to finish the match. He won 13 of 15 first-serve points in the second set, while Hewitt was just 8-of-13.

"I think he mixed up his game well," Hewitt said of Kuerten. "That's why he's one of the best players in the world at the moment."

The Safin-Henman match basically swung on three games - two at the end of the first set, and the opener of the second set.

Henman held service through the first set until Safin broke him in Game 11. Safin held service in the 12th game to take the set. He then opened the second set by breaking Henman with several outstanding shots, including a backhand past Henman at the net, and a 133-mph ace.

"I was scared. I had too much respect for him on the court," Safin said of Henman, ranked 11th in the world.

"It was a question of time to wait, wait, and when I have an opportunity, just to try to return inside the court. And without big shots, I tried to make the point. That was how it was."

Henman, the runner-up in Cincinnati a week earlier, found himself on defense all night.

"His serve was probably the decisive factor," Henman said. "I thought I had all the right thoughts, but I executed my shots poorly tonight."

Results from the $800,000 RCA Championships ATP Tour hard-court tournament:

Singles - Semifinals

Gustavo Kuerten (1), Brazil, def. Lleyton Hewitt (5), Australia, 7-5, 6-2. Marat Safin (3), Russia, def. Tim Henman (7), Britain, 7-5, 6-4.

Doubles - Quarterfinals

Lleyton Hewitt and Sandon Stolle, Australia, def. Neville Godwin, South Africa, and Michael Hill, Australia, 6-3, 6-4.

Doubles - Semifinals

Jonas Bjorkman, Sweden, and Max Mirinyi (6), Belarus, def. Ellis Ferreira, South Africa, and Rick Leach (2), United States, 7-6 (3), 6-3. Lleyton Hewitt and Sandon Stolle, Australia, def. Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde (1), Australia, 6-4, 7-5.