Kafelnikov wins, talks of top spot

Russian beats Czech Zib, makes 7th semi this year

August 21, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- No. 1 seed and second-ranked Yevgeny Kafelnikov spoke, albeit briefly and sternly, of regaining the No. 1 ranking after his 6-1, 6-7 (7-9), 7-5 victory over Tomas Zib in the quarterfinals of the Legg Mason Classic yesterday.

Kafelnikov, from Russia, held the top spot for a few weeks earlier this year and might get back soon, especially with the yesterday's injury in the RCA Championships to current No. 1 Pete Sampras.

The gist of Kafelnikov's message: This time, he'll be more prepared to deal with the scrutiny that comes with the highest ranking, especially from the media.

"It seems to me right now that I am playing well and feeling great," said Kafelnikov, who enters his seventh semifinal this season. "So I will not get so much criticism from the media, like I was getting before. It bothered me a little. But I just didn't pay too much attention."

The big deal earlier this year was over Kafelnikov vaulting to the top position after losing six straight first-round matches. While many thought it funny that someone playing so poorly could be the world's best tennis player, Kafelnikov only wanted to end his losing streak.

"It [the No. 1 ranking] was at a period of time where I wasn't doing so well," Kafelnikov said. "It was at a bad time. I wasn't playing as good as I am now."

He played extremely well in the first set against Zib, breaking the Czech Republic player twice. Kafelnikov couldn't keep things going in the second set, though, losing his serve in the fourth game.

But he rebounded to break Zib, who was serving for the set, in the ninth game.

That game featured five deuces and what looked like a sixth after Zib appeared to win a point on Kafelnikov's advantage. But the umpire called a let on Zib's serve that was not heard by either player, as they played the point out.

Zib threw down his racket in disgust, protested the call but was required to serve again. Kafelnikov won the point and game, making the score 5-4.

The two held serve until the tie-break, where Kafelnikov gained a 5-3 advantage and looked ready to end the match.

But with the crowd behind him, Zib came back to tie the score 7-7 and get a mini-break on Kafelnikov for an 8-7 lead before serving out the set.

"I started really slow. Yevgeny played well," Zib said. "After that first set, I started getting my first serve in. This was my first big match. I never played in front of a lot of people before."

The two held serve in the third set until Kafelnikov, up 6-5, broke Zib on a cross court backhand to the line, ending the match.

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