Walkover beneficiary Kafelnikov takes what he can get
publiziert: Samstag, 25. Nov 2000 / 12:48 Uhr

Stockholm - Unforseen circumstances this week in Sweden have thrust Yevgeny Kafelnikov into a good position for a third title of the season and a psychological edge heading into the elite Masters Cup event next week.

The Russian second seed won his quarter-final against Swede Andreas Vinciguerra in straight sets at the 800,000 dollar Stockholm Open, who eventually earned him a place in Sunday's decider as his scheduled semi-final opponent Sebastien Grosjean withdrew from the tournament to attend the funeral of his grandmother.

On Sunday, Kafelnikov meets either tough-guy top seed Magnus Norman - who cramped, recovered and won his quarter-final against Sjeng Schalken - or fellow Swede Thomas Johansson, himself no shrinking violet after saving five match points in his previous match.

Kafelnikov is nothing if not a tennis pragmatist: "You don't want to advance to the final this way. But I have to prepare for the final now. "I know that I play well, I'm confident and I really want to add this title to my career. It would be great end the year on a positive note," he said.

Kafelnikov stands fifth in the pecking order for round-robin play at the eight-man Masters in Lisbon from Tuesday. Leading the field is his compatriot Marat Safin, the only man this season to capture trophys at more than one Masters event. Safin's latest victory: Paris Bercy last weekend over Mark Philippoussis.

The 20-year-old U.S. Open champion has 784 points with Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten second on 709. Kuerten is in with a chance for the year-end world number 1 ranking although it has Safin's name all over it.

Tennis mystery man Pete Sampras, not seen on court since losing to Safin at the Open in New York three months ago, has dropped to fourth place behind Norman. The rest of the field: Kafelnikov, Australian Lleyton Hewitt, Spain's Alex Corretja and five-time grand Slam champion Andre Agassi. Swede Thomas Enqvist and Briton Tim Henman stand ninth and tenth respectively.

Both are both ready to step in if one of the other players suddenly pulls out a not-uncommon occurrance at this time of year when physical batteries are well worn down and the new season in Australia is just around the corner.

Kafelnikov and Safin, along with some help from teenaged up-and- comer Elena Dementieva on the women's side, have been breathing new life into Russian tennis.

The nation's tennis is living a dream after the Sydney Olympic gold from Kafelnikov. For a man who had hinted that he might not make the trip Down Under - too tired - the 26-year-old over-achieved in a major way as he piled on Games glory.

"To win the gold medal is beyond all of my expectations. I'm really proud of my country," he said. "Russia is taking over tennis." Fast-rising teenaged compatriot Dementieva finished the year on 12th from a U.S. Open semi-final and is eclipsing Anna Kournikova with actual results.

Kafelnikov may have used the Games to kick-start his year late, but he the consummate professional knows from where he earns his daily bread.

"We are all concentrating on the nine Masters tournaments," he said. "They are very very important. My concern is to try and win as many tournamentas I can."

(la/dpa)

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