Sunday, August 15, 1999

Rafter cruises 55 past Kafelnikov




BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

rafter
Patrick Rafter beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-4, 6-2.
(Saed Hindash photo)
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        MASON — Patrick Rafter is making it look a little too easy.

        The No.2 seed and defending champion of the Great American Insurance ATP Championship disposed of second-ranked and fourth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-4, 6-2 in 55 minutes Saturday night in the second semifinal match.

        Rafter had blasted Michael Chang in straight sets in 65 minutes Friday night.

        After starting the year 7-8, Rafter is 29-6 since May. And this is really his month; Rafter is 35-5 in August since 1997.

        He meets top-seeded Pete Sampras in today's rematch of last year's ATP Championship final.

        Rafter was ranked No.1 on July 26 but stayed there for just one week. He now is playing as well as he has all year despite daily treatment for shoulder tendinitis.

        Rafter lost only four points on his serve during a largely even first set Saturday night. There were no break points until the final game.

        With Rafter ahead 5-4, he took a 15-40 lead after Kafelnikov hit long after a long rally. Kafelnikov saved one set point with a 118 mph serve that Rafter couldn't handle.

        The two then got into another long rally, and Kafelnikov ended up hitting a shot long again.

        Rafter's first-set victory took 31 minutes.

        “Basically, he didn't do anything to win the game,” Kafelnikov said. “I lost it. I made three or four errors, which I shouldn't have done, and those three errors cost me the set.”

        Said the fourth-ranked Rafter: “I tried to get the (forehand) back over, get him to rush, play more balls.”

        Rafter broke Kafelnikov's first serve in the second set to go ahead 2-0, and he remained in control the rest of the way.

        “I always thought he'd be in it,” Rafter said. “One loose game by me and he can be back on a roll again.”

        Rafter has not dropped a set all week.

        He got in 77 percent of his first serves against Kafelnikov. In his last two matches, he has only lost 11 points while serving.

        In 35 service games this week, Rafter has not been broken and has faced only one break point — in his first match against Daniel Vacek.

        Rafter said he didn't serve as well as he would've liked last week in Montreal, and this week he has tried to improve that area of his game.

        “I need to serve well if I'm going to win,” he said.

        Kafelnikov was in his third straight semifinal on the ATP Tour and second in a row in Cincinnati. Last year, he also lost to Rafter, 7-5, 6-0. Kafelnikov has lost to the eventual champion three consecutive years here.

        The 1999 Australian Open champion, Kafelnikov was ranked No.1 in the world May 3 and stayed in the top spot for three weeks. He could have regained the No.1 ranking by winning this tournament.

        “I can improve a lot more, and I want to improve a lot more,” Kafelnikov said.

        With Rafter's victory, Sampras will remain No.1 when the new rankings come out Monday. It will be his record 273rd week atop the poll.

        Kafelnikov still leads his series with Rafter 3-2, and the two probably will meet in September when Russia and Australia play a Davis Cup semifinal.

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- Rafter cruises 55 past Kafelnikov
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