MEN’S TENNIS: MASTERS CUP IN LISBON. MARAT SAFIN GETS OFF TO SOLID START AS SAMPRAS GOES DOWN

Marat Safin, Russian and World Number 1 in the ATP rankings, won his first match against Alex Corretja, of Spain, in three sets : 6-7, 7-5, 6-3. About his bad start to the match, Safin said : “I was a little bit angry with myself. I made stupid mistakes. I was down by 5 – 3 and 6 – 4 and my concentration had gone but everything changed”. And how! The world number one equalised in the second set and crushed Corretja in the third. Pete Sampras (USA) lost his first round match to Lleyton Hewitt (Australia) in two straight sets, 7 – 5 and 6 – 0, proving that he is out of shape after being laid off for three months with injuries. Despite his normal psychological strength and natural (but not arrogant) confidence, Sampras is clearly not at his best. Meanwhile, in the final game of the night, Andre Agassi (USA) and Gustavo Kuerten (Brazil) also needed three sets to finish the match. After Kuerten took the first 6 – 4, Agassi stormed back with some aggressive tennis to win the second set by the same margin, Kuerten picking up a leg injury in the last game of the set. The third set was won by Agassi, with Kuerten, clearly the crowd’s favourite (Brazil was a Portuguese colony and the two countries share the same language) in serious difficulty. Tomorrow, Safin plays against Hewitt, Sampras plays Corretja and Yevgueny Kafelnikov (ATP ranking 5) starts his Masters Cup campaign against Magnus Norman (Sweden, ATP ranking 4). Safin, Corretja, Sampras and Hewitt are in the “red group”, while Kafelnikov, Agassi, Kuerten and Norman are in the “green group”. The members of each group play each other once and the top two go through to the semi-finals, when they meet players from the other group. The winner takes the Masters Cup, a sort of Cup Final for the game of tennis. The top prize is 1.5 million USD (42 million roubles) for a champion without defeats, 700,000 USD (19.5 million roubles) for the winner (with any defeat), 370,000 USD for the beaten semi-finalist (70 million roubles), 150,000 USD (4.2 million roubles) for passing the first phase and a further 100,000 USD (2.8 million roubles) for taking part. The extra player, who is present only to make up numbers if one of the world’s top eight should drop out (Thomas Enqvist, Sweden) gets 50,000 USD (1.4 million roubles) for making himself available.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey Pravda.Ru Lisbon

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Author`s name: Editorial Team