Kafelnikov ends Kiefer upset run to win Gerry Weber Open

HALLE, Germany, AP

Yevgeny Kafelnikov charged back from a set down to win the Gerry Weber Open for the third time Sunday, ending the upset run of Germany’s Nicolas Kiefer, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 at the Wimbledon warmup.

The two-time grand slam winner, mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, needed just under two hours to beat Kiefer, who had stunned Pete Sampras and Roger Federer at the US$510,000 event.

“I haven’t had a great season — it was very wise for me to come to this tournament,” Kafelnikov said. “It brings back some good memories.”

Kafelnikov, the top seed, added to his titles in 1997 and 1999 after coming into the event struggling with a 17-18 record this year and without a tournament win. The top-seeded Russian took control of the match with a third set break to 2-1, whipping a backhand down the line against Kiefer, who was cheered on by 10,500 spectators on the center court built to resemble Wimbledon.

Kiefer, ranked fourth in the world, made a comeback from near obscurity in upsetting Sanpras and Federer, one of the Wimbledon favorites.

The German, after winning 54 matches two years ago, had won just four matches this year and tumbled to 66th in the rankings. He equaled that total at the grass court event.

“I wanted to win my first German title, but Kafelnikov was better,” Kiefer said. “I lost my serve twice in a dumb way and that decided the match.”

There was just one break in each set on the grass, with Kafelnikov playing steadily after he missed two volleys at the net, then double faulted in the first set to give Kiefer a 4-2 lead.

Kafelnikov, the former Australian and French Open champion now has claimed a title for nine straight years, salvaging a year in which his last semifinal stretched back to Marseille in April. The Russian took home US$100,000, while Kiefer gained US$59,000 for reaching the final.

The Gerry Weber Open, in its 10th year, has become a growing rival for Queens as the major warmup on grass for Wimbledon.

Numerous players had cited the retractable roof, which stops rain delays, was a reason to play in Halle rather than Queens.

But Kiefer knocked out two of the big names in Sampras and Federer, the rising Swiss player touted as one of the Wimbleldon favorites.

Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson, a dark horse candidate to win the upcoming grand slam, fought a hip problem and was knocked out in the quarterfinals.