Kafelnikov Takes Marathon Match
- By Steven Wine
- Jun. 06 2000 00:00
PARIS -- The French Open pays the men's champion 4.24 million francs ($600,000), which would be pretty good compensation for all the overtime Yevgeny Kafelnikov has worked.
The marathon man survived his third five-set match of the tournament Sunday, outlasting Fernando Vicente 5-7, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (4), 8-6.
In four matches totaling 12 hours, 53 minutes, the fourth-seeded Russian has played 19 sets and 196 games.
"I don't feel physically tired at all," said Kafelnikov, 26. "I've just begun."
His latest win, however, was the closest call yet. He overcame 112 unforced errors and a 5-2 deficit in the fifth set. By that time, the stands on Court Suzanne Lenglen were mostly empty.
Kafelnikov's wife, Masha, could hardly bear to watch, frequently covering her eyes with her hands as he mounted a comeback.
"I'm really happy to survive," he said. "In best-of-five matches in Grand Slams, the experience is on my side. And I feel I'm physically strong enough to go the distance."
In the quarterfinals Tuesday, he'll face No. 5 Gustavo Kuerten. Kafelnikov, the 1996 champion, lost in the 1997 quarterfinals to eventual champion Kuerten.
"I still remember '97," Kafelnikov said. "He was nobody at the time. Right now I think the odds are in his favor, but I'm capable of doing anything."
Kafelnikov had some help with his fifth-set comeback against Vicente, who served for the match at 5-3 and was two points from victory before he hit a pair of forehands long to lose the game.
Then, serving again at 6-6, Vicente dumped an easy overhead into the bottom of the net. The Spaniard smacked his face with his hand in dismay, then lost the next two points to give Kafelnikov a 7-6 lead.
Kafelnikov closed out the victory with the help of three big serves and walked off a winner after 3 hours, 25 minutes of tennis.
The Russian hasn't won a clay court tournament since his French title four years ago, and he arrived at Roland Garros with an 8-10 record this year on the surface. But he's braced for another five-setter against Kuerten.
"If he's going to beat me, he's going to have to go through the hard way," Kafelnikov said. "That I can promise you."
Kuerten won a battle of South Americans in the fourth round.
The Brazilian beat No. 11 Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4).
Two Spaniards also advanced. Tenth-seeded Alex Corretja swept Roger Federer 7-5, 7-6 (7), 6-2, and No. 16 Juan Carlos Ferrero beat Mark Philippoussis 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.