Brazilian wins Masters Cup, finishes year at No. 1
Updated: Monday December 04, 2000 9:54 AM
The Brazilian won 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, beating the player who had finished 1999 with the top ranking.
This was the first time Kuerten won the Masters Cup, a tournament featuring the sport's top eight players.
"It's been a great week, the last tournament, the last match, I had to give everything," Kuerten said.
Marat Safin, the Russian who came into the event with a 75-point lead over Kuerten and who lost to Agassi in the semifinals, would have finished in the top spot had Kuerten lost.
"I didn't believe I could do this," Kuerten said.
Kuerten, who won his second French Open title this summer, led the inaugural Champions Race for 16 weeks, longer than any other player. This was his fifth title of the year and earned him $1.4 million.
In the semifinals, Kuerten ousted defending five-time champion Pete Sampras, who in one stretch was the No. 1 player for six consecutive years. Kuerten lost to Agassi in the round-robin portion of the tournament and battled hamstring and back problems all week.
"It's big, it's huge for me. It's a great feeling. I really deserved to beat Pete and Andre in the same tournament. It's very, very, very big," Kuerten said.
He became the first man to beat Sampras and Agassi, the two dominant players of the last decade, in consecutive matches since Michael Chang in 1990.
Kuerten wrapped himself in a Brazilian flag as he waited for the awards ceremony. He celebrated with his family while a stunned Agassi sat in his chair.
"He just played the big points better," said Agassi, who at 30 was the oldest player in the tournament.
Agassi lost his second straight final in the tournament he won in 1990. He was beaten by Sampras last year.
Kuerten began the match by breaking Agassi's serve. He fought off three break points in the fourth game and won the set on a forehand passing shot winner.
"He got the lead and he executed well," Agassi said. "He was aggressive, he kept the points from getting too long. My game never came alive."
Kuerten, 24, displayed the full range of his talent in the second set. He served big, hit winners from both sides, changed pace with soft drop shots and passed Agassi seemingly at will.
His backhand was particularly effective. By the end of the match, he had 12 backhand winners, with only one for Agassi. He broke serve at love for a 3-2 lead, then squandered three more break points in the seventh game.
Agassi had a shred of hope as Kuerten served for the set and fell behind 30-40. But Kuerten hit a service winner and followed with two consecutive aces to close the set.
"Every point for me was a point of my life maybe," he said.
Kuerten seemed to come up with the right answer every time he was threatened. Facing another break point in the second game of the third set, he produced another ace.
"He served incredibly well on the biggest points," Agassi said. "His backhand was out of my strike zone."
Agassi encountered trouble again in the fifth game. He saved one break point by rushing the net and pounding a smash. But then he double faulted to give Kuerten a 3-2 lead.
Kuerten pumped his fist and the crowd went wild. A Portuguese speaker, Kuerten has been the crowd favorite and many fans wore Brazilian shirts.
He hit a forehand crosscourt winner to gain his first match point and converted it when Agassi hit a return long off Kuerten's second serve.
Kuerten finished with 19 aces to Agassi's seven. Kuerten also hit 50 winners to 15 for Agassi.
"I think I surprised Andre by the way I played, a little bit faster than normal, with big confidence, believing in myself," Kuerten said.
Both players received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd of 11,000.
"It's a great accomplishment," Agassi said as he addressed the crowd and Kuerten. "It's your day, you deserve it."
Before receiving the trophy and still wearing the Brazilian flag, Kuerten spoke to the crowd in Portuguese.
"This is the happiest day in my life," he said.
He then hugged his mother, Alice, and patted the head of his grandmother, Olga, who often accompanies him to tournaments.
"I always dedicate my victories to someone special and I dedicate this win to my mother," he said.