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THE INSIDE TRACK | NEWSWIRE

With a Loss to Kuerten, Top Ranking Eludes Rafter

May 17, 1999|From Staff and Wire Reports

Patrick Rafter's bid to become the world's top-ranked player fell a match short Sunday.

Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten, seeded No. 16, defeated the serve-and-volleying Rafter, 6-4, 7-5, 7-6 (8-6), to win the Italian Open, a clay-court event at Rome.

Rafter, ranked and seeded No. 4, would have supplanted Yevgeny Kafelnikov at the top of the ATP rankings had he won. But Kuerten's powerful returns at the ankles and just-out-of-reach passing shots were too much.

"He put pressure on my volleys, he put pressure on my serves," Australia's Rafter said. "I tried everything, but he was killing me from the baseline. I needed something to turn, something to go my way, because he was always in control."

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Thomas Muster, once the world's No. 1 player, was defeated by fellow Austrian Stefan Koubek, 6-3, 6-4, in the opening round of the Raiffeisen Grand Prix at St. Poelten, Austria.

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Andre Agassi's shoulder bursitis flared while he was trailing France's Nicolas Escude, 4-3, in the first set of their World Team Cup match at Dusseldorf, Germany, forcing him to retire and jeopardizing his start for the French Open.

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Martina Hingis surged through the first set and swept France's Julie Halard-Decugis, 6-0, 6-1, in 42 minutes to win the $1.05-million German Open at Berlin, her fourth title in 1999.

Top-seeded John McEnroe defeated Andres Gomez, 6-1, 6-4, to advance to today's final of the senior event at Washington, D.C. He'll play unseeded Mats Wilander, who swept Jose-Luis Clerc, 6-4, 6-2.

Motor Racing

The Indy Racing League, following the lead of Formula One and Championship Auto Racing Teams, is expected this week to announce race-car modifications to reduce the risk of injury to spectators. Three fans were killed and eight injured two weeks ago when a wheel flew off a car and went airborne, with other crash debris, over a fence and into the grandstand at an IRL race at Concord, N.C. Last year, three fans were killed and several injured in a similar crash at a CART race. CART and Formula One announced their cars will have tethers attaching wheels to the suspensions or chassis.

Michael Schumacher won the Monaco Grand Prix at Monte Carlo, becoming Ferrari's career leader in victories. It was Schumacher's 16th victory in a Ferrari. He had tied Niki Lauda by winning the San Marino GP two weeks ago. Defending champion Mika Hakkinen, who started from the pole, was third.

Mike Wallace overcame a two-lap deficit, passed leader Sean Woodside 29 laps from the finish and won the NASCAR Winston West 150 race at Colorado Springs, Colo.

Defending NHRA Winston top-fuel champion Gary Scelzi earned his second victory of the season in the Southern Nationals at Commerce, Ga., when final-round opponent Doug Kalitta red-lighted. John Force (funny car), Warren Johnson (pro stock), Angelle Seeling (pro stock motorcycle) and Randy Daniels (pro stock truck) also were winners.

Miscellany

Karch Kiraly and Adam Johnson defeated Carl Henkel and Kevin Wong, 15-9, to win the men's final of the $100,000 Oldsmobile Alero Beach Volleyball tournament at Huntington Beach. Lisa Arce and Barbra Fontana defeated Annett Buckner-Davis and Jenny Johnson-Jordan in the women's final, 15-12. Each winning team earned $20,000 and qualified to represent the U.S. at the 1999 Pan-American Games.

Manchester United won its fifth Premier League soccer title in seven seasons with a 2-1 victory over Tottenham at London. . . . Joey DiGiamarino scored in the 12th minute on a blast from about 20 yards as the Colorado Rapids beat the Chicago Fire, 1-0, at Chicago.

After 24 seasons and 702 victories, Don Meyer is leaving as basketball coach at David Lipscomb University at Nashville, after the school decided to jump from NAIA to NCAA Division I. . . . Picayune (Miss.) High center Jonathan Bender, who broke Michael Jordan's record with 31 points in the McDonald's All-America game, said he has declared himself eligible for the June 30 NBA draft.

Australian IOC official Phil Coles gave "appropriate" help to Salt Lake City with its bid for the 2002 Winter Games, Max Wheeler, an attorney for Salt Lake City bid team vice president Dave Johnson, told Australian TV.

Jan Hlavac's goal at 16:32 of overtime gave the Czech Republic its second World Hockey Championships title in four years at Lillehammer, Norway. Finland, last year's losing finalist to Sweden, won Sunday's second final game, 4-1, to force the overtime. The Czech Republic won the opener, 3-1, Saturday.

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