ATP Finals Flashback: Gustavo Kuerten achieves double honor

The ATP Finals left Germany in 2000 after ten years. The premium ATP event found its new home at Pavilhao Atlantico in Lisbon, Portugal. The tournament went on between November 28 and December 3, gathering the world’s best players, including Marat Safin, Pete Sampras, and Gustavo Kuerten. Besides competing for the last and one of the season’s biggest titles, Safin and Kuerten embraced the year-end no. 1 battle. The Russian held everything in his hands before the event, at least on paper. Marat opened the round-robin action with triumphs over Alex Corretja and Lleyton Hewitt, while Andre Agassi beat Kuerten. At that point, Safin needed just one more win to seal the year-end no. 1 honor. However, he lost the last group match to Pete Sampras and the semi-final clash against Agassi, failing to take a set in those encounters.

On the other hand, Kuerten was in a clear but almost impossible situation after that opening loss. The Brazilian had to win the following four clashes and hope that Safin would lose all the remaining ones to pass him and finish the year as the top-ranked player. Guga mastered the group stage with victories over Magnus Norman and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. He erased the deficit against Pete Sampras in the semi-final to emerge at the top and set the final meeting with Andre Agassi. On December 3, Kuerten toppled the American 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to win the ATP Finals title and overcome Marat Safin in the rankings by slim 75 points! The match lasted two hours and six minutes, and the Brazilian held his nerve to repel all seven break chances. He stole the rival’s serve once in each set to prevail in straight sets and write history. Kuerten became the first South American with the year-end no. 1 honor. He ended the USA’s domination that lasted from 1992 and made Brazil the fifth country since 1973 that gave a year-end no. 1 player following Romania, the USA, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia!

Gustavo Kuerten won the ATP Finals and finished as the year-end No. 1 in 2000.

Gustavo fired 19 aces and made the most significant difference with his first serve, gaining free points and controlling the rallies. Agassi had to work hard to earn points and could not hold the pressure or take Kuerten’s serve and prolong any of three sets. Kuerten blasted 35 service winners while Agassi stayed on 27, losing the edge in the backhand exchanges and at the net, where Gustavo had the upper hand. A younger player had the advantage after hitting 50 winners and reducing Andre to around 15, although the American had fewer errors. That was not enough to keep him safe, though, suffering in the shortest and mid-range rallies and missing a chance to lift his first ATP Finals trophy since 1990. The Brazilian broke at 15 in the encounter’s opening game and fended off four break points in the fourth game to go 3-1 in front and settle into a nice rhythm.

Agassi saved a break chance in the next game to stay in contention, and both players served well until the end of the set, with no more opportunities for the returners. Kuerten claimed the set with a crosscourt forehand winner in game ten to gain momentum. Andre defended a break chance at the beginning of the second set, eager to avoid the first set scenario. He created an opportunity to move ahead in game two, denied by another strong serve from the Brazilian. It was Gustavo’s turn to make damage on the return at 2-2, breaking at love to forge the lead when Andre sent a backhand long. The American was in a challenging position again at 2-4, playing against three break chances and saving them to remain within one break deficit. Suddenly, he had the opportunity to get back to the scoreboard after creating a break opportunity at 4-5.

Nonetheless, the Brazilian repelled it with a service winner, fired two aces to close the game and jumped into a massive two sets to love advantage. With no room for errors, Agassi held at love at the start of the third set and created a break chance in the second game. Kuerten saved it with another ace and clinched the game after a few more deuces. The pivotal moment came in game five when Andre hit a double fault to hand the serve away, allowing Gustavo to serve for the title at 5-4. A volley winner gave the crowd’s favorite a match point in game ten, and he crossed the finish line with another service winner that propelled him toward the title and the year-end no. 1 honor.