Kuerten Upset at Paris Masters
PARIS (AP) _ Top-seeded Gustavo Kuerten hit a roadblock in his bid to finish the year at No. 1, losing to Mark Philippoussis 7-6 (5), 7-6 (11) Saturday in the semifinals of the $2.95 million Paris Masters.
Philippoussis, the 13th-seeded Aussie, won a riveting match against the Brazilian and will face Marat Safin for the title Sunday. The second-seeded Russian defeated 12th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain 6-2, 6-2 in the other semifinal.
In a match in which both players held every serve, Philippoussis saved four set points in the final tiebreaker.
``It was one of those unbelievable tiebreakers where anything could have happened,″ he said. ``At the end we were both extremely tired. I just managed to get through.″
Kuerten, a two-time French Open champion, said he simply failed to execute.
``Sometimes you try to do the right thing, but you get it wrong,″ he said. ``It’s part of the game.″
After leading the ATP Champions Race for 16 weeks, Kuerten was overtaken last week by Safin. Heading to this month’s Masters Cup in Portugal, Safin leads Kuerten by 45 points. Even if he loses the Paris final, Safin will enter the Masters Cup at No. 1.
``As long as I have a chance, I’m going to keep on trying,″ Kuerten said. ``I think everything will be decided in Lisbon.″
Kuerten beat Philippoussis in straight sets in Rome in their only other match this year. But this time Kuerten appeared off his game, repeatedly pausing for deep breaths and whacking balls into the net after lost points.
``It’s been a long tournament, a lot of tough matches,″ Kuerten said. ``Everybody gets tired by this type of competition, with the high level we’re playing here.″
He had 12 aces to the big-serving Australian’s 11, but Kuerten lost several crucial points with returns into the net.
Philippoussis was down 6-2 in the final tiebreaker but came back to take the match.
``The important thing for me is that I fought really well, until the end,″ the Aussie said. ``I told myself, ‘Hold onto your two points, anything can happen’ _ which it did.″
Safin said his play on Saturday was his best since he won the U.S. Open. On one of his overhead slams, he paid homage to Pete Sampras.
``I’ve learned from him, from so many times on TV,″ Safin said.
Safin had eight aces and won five of seven break points. Ferrero committed four double faults.
``Juan Carlos didn’t play his best tennis,″ Safin said. ``He was too tired. I saw it.″
Safin says Philippoussis is in good shape and playing ``unbelievable tennis.″
``I will try to push him and put him under pressure,″ Safin said. ``It’s going to be the key of the match, to push him from the beginning.″
The eight-man Masters Cup in Lisbon on Nov. 27-Dec. 3 features the four Grand Slam champions _ Safin, Kuerten, Sampras, Andre Agassi _ plus Magnus Norman, Lleyton Hewitt, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Alex Corretja.
Agassi withdrew from the Paris Masters with an injured hip. Sampras skipped the tournament.
The Paris tournament is the last of the nine-event Tennis Masters Series, the most important events after the Grand Slams.