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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Goran Ivanisevic dented Gustavo Kuerten's hopes of claiming the year-end top ranking when he outlasted the French Open champion to win their Masters Cup round robin match, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, Tuesday.

Ivanisevic described the win as his best since his extraordinary Wimbledon victory last June because he overcame Kuerten by playing his natural serve and volley game instead of being lured into a baseline battle with the Brazilian.

``Yeah, it was, especially because of the way I played, I know I don't have a chance if I stay back and rally with him so every chance I had I tried to hit a winner or come in, don't give him any rhythm,'' Ivanisevic said.

Ivanisevic's win came after Olympic champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov produced a blistering seven-game blitz to beat Juan Carlos Ferrero, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6, in a much scrappier opening match of the Ken Rosewall Group.

Ivanisevic is only 13th in the Champions' Race which Kuerten heads and made it into the elite eight-man tournament by virtue of his Wimbledon victory, which he achieved as a wild card.

But it was as if Ivanisevic was atop the Champions' Race and not Kuerten as he raced through the first set in only 25 minutes.

LUCKY WILDCARD

``Maybe it's the lucky wildcard thing again,'' Ivanisevic said.

The eighth-seeded Croatian completely dominated the early stages of the match, pounding Kuerten with heavy serves and unplayable forehands.

He stumbled as he closed in on an unlikely victory but regained his composure, serving his 28th ace to set up match point and then punching a backhand volley crosscourt on the next point to finish an intense match in one hour and 51 minutes.

It was one of those days when the ``good Goran'' turned up to play -- the Croatian's way of explaining the two sides of his volatile nature.

Ivanisevic's power game helped him to break Kuerten's serve in the second game of the first set and he claimed another break six games later when he rifled a backhand service return past a bewildered Kuerten.

Kuerten served solidly in the second set but was never able to settle into his baseline routine against Ivanisevic, whose serve regularly topped 118 mph.

The Brazilian kept plugging away and at least managed to keep his own serve on track during the second set to force the tiebreak, which he won 7-2.

SORE TOE

Ivanisevic later said he was suffering from a sore toe, which he stubbed in the shower of his Sydney hotel last week, but he put the pain aside much as he has with the shoulder injury that has dogged the latter stages of his enigmatic career.

Despite being upset by a handful of line calls which threatened to bring out ``bad Goran,'' Ivanisevic held his nerve to close out the match in front of a disappointingly small crowd of about 3,000 in the 17,800 capacity SuperDome.

Kuerten came into the tournament with indifferent form, losing six of his eight matches since the U.S. Open. Kuerten said Ivanisevic's serve was the difference but admitted that he is becoming frustrated with his slump.

``It just shows the way I've been playing. It's tough for me when I'm not playing well,'' he said.

Kuerten's loss opens the way for challengers Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi.

The Brazilian leads the Champions' Race by 48 points from Hewitt, with Agassi another 39 points adrift in third.

Hewitt and Agassi meet in a crucial round robin match on Wednesday. Either player can afford to drop one round robin match and still have the chance to beat Kuerten for the top spot.

ERROR-PRONE

Australia's Hewitt beat Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean in the John Newcombe Group Monday, while Agassi downed Hewitt's Davis Cup team mate Pat Rafter.

Kafelnikov appeared to be headed for a heavy defeat in an error-prone opening to his first round robin match, gifting Spanish baseliner Ferrero a succession of easy points.

Kafelnikov complained about the height of the net at the start of the second set. Match officials found it to be five centimeters too high and the net was adjusted during a short delay.

From that point on Kafelnikov's serve and forehand began finding their range and he strung together a match-turning sequence of seven straight games against fourth seed Ferrero, who is playing in the $3.7 million tournament for the first time.

Source: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20011113/s...ters_dc_34.html
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