Top-seeded Kuerten wins RCA final

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The Independent Online

French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten can win on surfaces besides clay.

French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten can win on surfaces besides clay.

The top-seeded Brazilian won his first hardcourt title today, edging third-seeded Marat Safin 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2) in the $800,000 RCA Championships in Indianapolis.

The title was the fourth this year for Kuerten, previously known as a claycourt specialist, and tied him with Lleyton Hewitt as the winningest player on the ATP Tour this year. He earned $115,000 with the victory and boosted his ATP Champions Race points total to 622, an 89-point advantage over Magnus Norman.

Kuerten and Safin have met five times, and each match has gone the distance - three times to a fifth set. And for the third straight time, the decisive set has ended with a tiebreak.

Safin leads the series 3-2, but this was Kuerten's second straight win.

Six unforced errors in the second-set tiebreaker led to Safin's downfall. Kuerten had 35 unforced errors - 10 less than Safin - and only managed to capitalize on two of his eight break opportunities.

Utilizing his claycourt skills, Kuerten extended his career-best winning streak to 16 while ending the career-best streak of his opponent at 12. The champion stayed back most of the match, but capitalized when he did come to the net by winning 15 points on 19 approaches.

Kuerten served only 10 aces, but seven came in the deciding set. Down 4-5 in the third set, the Brazilian responded with three consecutive aces en route to winning the 10th game. After each player held to force the tiebreaker, Kuerten moved ahead for good 2-1 with two aces and then took command 4-1 with consecutive winners on Safin's serve.

Safin lost his temper during the first tiebreaker, slamming his racket to the court after doublefaulting to go down 1-2. Then after falling behind 2-5, he smashed the racket again, received a warning for racket abuse and then threw it to the court again.

Safin was broken in the third game of the final set, but pulled even when Kuerten doublefaulted to end the sixth game. Each player then held serve to force the decisive tiebreaker.