SYDNEY, Australia — An Olympic tennis tournament decimated by defections and upsets ended on an up note today, when Russian star Yevgeny Kafelnikov won a five-set thriller over Germany's Tommy Haas.
The score, in a match that lasted more than 3 1/2 hours and entertained a packed house of 10,000 in the Olympic Park Tennis Stadium, was 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
Kafelnikov, who carries with him the prestige of two Grand Slam event championships, an Australian and a French Open title, broke Haas' serve in the eighth game of the final set and then served out the match at love, as Haas sent a backhand wide at match point.
This was an event badly in need of a boost from the lost prestige of no-shows and early round losses. The two marquee stars of men's tennis, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, skipped the event. Agassi was the defending champion, but stayed home because of health problems in his family. Sampras has only played the Olympics once, on the kind of slow, red clay in Barcelona that he hates, and has opted not to return.
Most of those with name value who did show didn't stay long.
The top-seeded player, Russian Marat Safin, who demolished Sampras in the U.S. Open final, lost in the first round. Also leaving quickly were two-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil, seeded second; rising Swedish star Magnus Norman, seeded third, and young Australian star Lleyton Hewitt, seeded fourth.
Of the 16 players seeded in the 64-man draw, 10 went out in the first round. Besides Safin and Hewitt, they were Australian matinee idol Patrick Rafter, Germany's Nicolas Kiefer, U.S. veteran Michael Chang, former No. 1 Chilean Marcelo Rios, British star Tim Henman, as well as South Africa's top player Wayne Ferreira, Spanish star Alberto Costa and Argentina's Franco Squillari.
Both Kafelnikov and Haas made early exits at the U.S. Open this year--only one player who got to the quarterfinals of that event, Arnaud Clement of France, won a first-round match here. Kafelnikov lost to Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia in the third round and Haas, who has never made it past the fourth round, went out a round earlier than Kafelnikov, losing in straight sets to Rainer Shuttler of Germany.
Kafelnikov grabbed the first set with some smart tennis in the tiebreaker. After losing the first three points, he won the next five. At match point on Haas' serve, he sneaked in behind a deep ground stroke and put a forehand volley near Haas' feet for a winner.
In the second set, Haas cranked a forehand down the line to break at 3-4 and then served it out. But 2 hours 10 minutes into the match, in the third set, Kafelnikov worked Haas to two break points and got the second one when he forced Haas to net a tough backhand that ended a long rally.
Kafelnikov also broke to win the third set, giving him a nice advantage in serving first in the fourth. But that backfired when Haas broke early and won the set, 6-4.
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TENNIS MEN'S SINGLES
Gold: Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Russia
Silver: Tommy Haas, Germany
Bronze: Amaud Di Pasquale, France