Kafelnikov and Kiefer heat up in Legg Mason

No. 1 seed, German advance to 3rd round

August 18, 1999

WASHINGTON -- Once, just a couple years ago, German tennis was soaring. There was charismatic Boris Becker, the strong-willed Michael Stich and the inimitable Steffi Graf.

Until a few weeks ago, Becker was still around and until a few days ago, Graf.

But now they are gone. The German stage is empty. Or is it?

Playing on Stadium Court yesterday in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic was Nicolas Kiefer.

Is he the next great German player?

"I'd like to be," he said. "I hope so. I want to be. I want to beat my opponents. I want to win."

Kiefer, 22, is ranked 16th in the world and is the No. 6 seed at the H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. Yesterday, he beat qualifier Mashiska Washington, 6-4, 6-2, to move into the third round.

No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov joined him there last night, but not before giving tournament officials a few nervous moments before advancing with an 0-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 112-ranked Wayne Black.

The early worry was not unfounded, given that the Legg Mason Tennis Classic No. 1 seed has left early before. Several have lost first-round matches, including defending champion Andre Agassi, and this was Kafelnikov, who dropped six straight first-round matches last spring after becoming No. 1 in the world.

"The first match is always difficult when you have a first-round bye," he said. "The other player has already played and won. He has confidence and is on top of his game. But I did what I had to do and got the job done."

Kafelnikov, his face flushed, said he had conserved his energy in the first set after being broken early.

"The weather conditions were extremely humid and hot," he said. "I'm extremely happy I got through my first match and I'm hoping they'll continue to give me night matches."

He isn't the only one. Keifer also said the humidity and heat, which soared over 100 degrees on court, even though his match started at 4 p.m., was a factor in his allowing Washington to rally from a 3-1 first-set deficit and get back on serve at 3-3.

Washington, the 22-year-old younger brother of ATP Tour veteran Malivai Washington, was a qualifier here and playing an ATP Tour event for the first time since 1997, but Kiefer said he played a lot like his older brother and that, plus the heat, kept the first set close.

"I've never played in Washington before," Kiefer said. "I knew it would be hot, but I didn't expect this. This is one of the Top 5 hottest places I've ever been."

Kiefer knows something about another kind of heat, too. He is considered a Boris Becker prodigy, but at Wimbledon, where he lost in three sets to Becker in the second round, the talk was all about how Becker was no longer speaking to him.

Why?

Kiefer said at the time that he knew nothing about it. Yesterday, he again shrugged, saying, "I think it is quite normal before a match not to speak to your opponent. You are not going to be like a friend to somebody you have to play. Really, it was quite normal, I think."

When Kiefer was 16, it was Becker who advised him, helped him and gave him tips. Since then, others have also helped.

"I'm not telling you any of those tips," said the 5-foot-11 native of Holzminden. "I keep it here, inside. I don't share."

His record this season is 36-18, already better than all of last year. It is not yet Becker- or Stich-like, but it is getting there.

"I'm very much more relaxed than I was a year ago," Kiefer said. "Not because Boris is gone. I play my tennis every day the same, nothing different.

"But I am enjoying playing. Two weeks ago, I beat Rafter on Stadium Court in quarters in Montreal. Each moment like that deserves to be enjoyed, and I am enjoying it."

Among those remaining in the mix with him are Todd Martin, the No. 4 seed, who advanced with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Kristian Pless; Justin Gimelstob, who beat Wayne Arthurs, 6-4, 6-1; Martin Damm, who upset No. 12 seed Byron Black, 6-2, 6-2; and Ronald Agenor, the oldest player in the field at 35. Agenor saved one match point and beat Kevin Ullyett, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.

(Results, 4D)

Legg Mason Classic

Today's Stadium Court matches

Beginning at 4 p.m.: No. 5 Alex Corretja vs. Gianluca Pozzi

Followed by: No. 13 Michael Chang vs. Ramon Delgado

Followed by, but not before 7 p.m.: No. 1 Andre Agassi vs. Mikael Tillstrom

Followed by: No. 3 Tim Henman vs. Peter Wessels

Pub Date: 8/18/99

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