Seles falls in marathon three-set Chase Championships final

Hingis triumphs in epic battle

Posted: Monday, November 20, 2000

NEW YORK -- For Martina Hingis, it was vindication that she's the world's top player.

Hingis survived Sunday's 2-hour, 21-minute marathon to win her second Chase Championships and keep Monica Seles from capturing a fourth season-ending title.

''This is like the fifth Grand Slam,'' Hingis said. ''I think I deserve now the respect of being No. 1.''

When Seles buried a service return into the net, ending the 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4 battle, Hingis wept with joy and relief. The world's top-ranked player had been extended by a former No. 1 who was trying to capture the Madison Square Garden finale, which she last won in 1992.

After being held at the Garden since 1979, the championships are moving next year to Munich, Germany.

Hingis and Seles engaged in a classic in the final New York edition, with one getting the momentum only briefly before the other edged ahead.

Seles served for the first set in the 10th game but was broken. Hingis had three set points in the 12th game -- a 24-point miniature of the afternoon's competition -- before they played the tiebreaker, which Seles won 7-5.

The first set took 56 minutes and the tension was just starting.

''I just needed to believe in what I was doing out there and keep the faith, basically,'' Hingis said. ''I felt like I was tired, so I was like, 'Come on, she can't play like this all the time.' But she would throughout the whole match. It was not too many ups-and-downs in the whole match.''

Both Hingis and Seles took their best shots from the baseline. Seles finished with 53 winners -- four more than Hingis -- but had 31 unforced errors -- five more than Hingis.

Hingis lost her serve in the second game of the second set, only to break right back.

Following the third game, both players looked exhausted and Seles began stretching her left leg. It also was an omen.

Seles, who won the championships three straight years when she ruled women's tennis, had the harder time holding her serve, however. In the fifth game of the second set, one that took seven minutes to play, she had to battle through four deuces before finally holding with a sizzling backhand down the line.

She followed by breaking Hingis at 30, taking a 4-2 lead and only needing to hold serve to win her fourth title.

It didn't take long for Hingis to reply. She broke Seles' serve in the next game -- at love -- and again in the ninth game, this time from deuce. And when she held at 30 in the 10th game, she had captured the second set and leveled the match.

Paris Masters

PARIS -- Bloodied and bandaged, Marat Safin emphatically showed why he is the world's No. 1 player. He won the $2.95 million Paris Masters in five sets against Mark Philippoussis on Sunday in a final featuring one screaming serve after another. The match lasted 3 hours, 28 minutes and went down to a final tiebreaker, with the top-seeded Russian winning 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (8).

for his sixth title of the year.

''He's played very well all season and that's why he's No. 1,'' Philippoussis said.

Safin will have battle scars to remember this victory. In the third set, down 4-3, he dived headfirst for a backhand return, hitting himself with his racket as he fell.

He lay face down on the court. Philippoussis crossed the court and tapped a motionless Safin on the shoulder. Two physicians tended to the Russian. Eight minutes later, Safin returned to the court with a butterfly bandage taped to his eyebrow.

''I think I need stitches,'' he said. ''It hurts a lot.''

An emboldened Safin came back to break serve and take the set 6-4. Philippoussis said the delay threw off his game.

''I lost a bit of concentration,'' he said. ''It was very frustrating.''

But the 13th-seeded Australian knew there was more to his loss than that.

''He's got so much confidence at the moment,'' Philippoussis said. ''He's just a big hitter of the ball and is tough to play.''

This was Safin's second title in eight days. He had moved to the top of the ATP Champions Race when he won in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Nov. 12.

The U.S. Open winner heads into this month's Masters Cup in Lisbon, Portugal, leading second-place Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil by 75 points.

Safin is trying to become the first non-American to finish No. 1 since Stefan Edberg of Sweden in 1991. Since then, the honor has gone to Jim Courier (1992), Pete Sampras (1993-98) and Andre Agassi (1999).

Sampras skipped the Paris tournament. Agassi pulled out with an injured hip.

In the fifth set, Safin and Philippoussis held every serve. In the tiebreaker, Safin squandered a 6-3 lead and lost five match points, stretching the score to 6-6 before he won.

''It's extremely disappointing,'' Philippoussis said. ''It's been a long tough week for me. To come all that way and get to 6-all in the fifth. But that's tennis. That's how things go.''

The final was battle of aces, with each player producing 22 and Philippoussis beginning the match with three aces, one reaching 127 mph.

After dropping the first set, Safin came back to win the second-set tiebreaker. After squandering two set points, the Russian looked to the roof and fired a serve that Philippoussis fed to the net.

Philippoussis made a strong comeback in the fourth set. Down 4-2, he broke serve at love to take the game and went on to win the next two, making it two sets apiece.

''He was playing so well today, I was just lucky,'' Safin said.

Safin earned $434,000 for the title. Philippoussis, who upset Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Kuerten en route to the final, won $228,000.

The Paris tournament was the last of the nine-event Tennis Masters Series, the most important events after the Grand Slams.

Safin will be joined in the eight-man Masters Cup by the three other Grand Slam champions -- , Kuerten, Sampras, Agassi -- plus Kafelnikov, Magnus Norman, Lleyton Hewitt and Alex Corretja.



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