World number one Gustavo Kuerten became tennis’s great escapologist early this morning to scrape through an extraordinary US Open third round match with Max Mirnyi.
The flamboyant Brazilian was two sets down and struggling in the face of a Mirnyi fusillade of huge serves when, with his mum screaming encouragement from the stands, he launched a thrilling comeback which captivated a packed Arthur Ashe stadium to triumph 6-7 5-7 7-6 7-6 6-2.
With his Brazilian fans chanting ‘Guga, Guga’ and the rest of New York it seemed roaring him on under the night lights of Flushing Meadows, top seed Kuerten reversed the Mirnyi momentum with a combination of sheer courage and heart plus a series of thrilling groundstrokes.
At the end, when a valiant Mirnyi had pushed the final volley into the net Kuerten skipped over to hug his mum in the stand and the entire stadium stood to acclaim the three-time French Open champion.
But spare a thought for Mirnyi, the 24-year-old from Belarus, whose father brought him to live in Brooklyn when he was six for a year before he moved to a tennis school in Florida.
It was the fourth time he had lost a five-set match after winning the first two.
He didn’t lose a single service game until the fourth game of the fifth set - and even then it took a net cord of the most cruel dimensions.
A measure of his defiance was the fact that Kuerten needed nine set points to clinch the third set on the eventual tie-break.
Yet the victory was also sweet revenge for Kuerten since Mirnyi beat him on clay, his favourite surface, in May in their only previous meeting.
Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic finally fell off his summer wave of success when he lost 6-4 7-6 7-6 to Spain’s Albert Costa - but not even the taste of defeat could wipe the smile off the face of the charismatic Croat.
‘‘Everything is fine, I’m very happy with my performance,’’ said Ivanisevic.
‘‘Overall after Wimbledon my tennis is improving. I’m happier. When I leave the court I get a standing ovation. I am leaving New York a happy man. That means I gave my best, the people had a good time, they like to watch me.
‘‘This summer I have achieved something I dreamed about all my life. I am at peace with myself. I can always be proud.’’
Unseeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo played the first five-set match of his career to cause a shock by defeating his compatriot and fifth seed Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-6 4-6 6-4 4-6 7-6.
‘‘I was tired,’’ admitted Robredo, whose pace is his biggest asset but who will need to bulk up his slight frame to test the really powerful hitters like Andy Roddick who he faces next.
‘‘But I played a great match, one of the best matches of my life. Everybody tells me I must work on my strength. On the legs I’m okay but on the top part I’m really bad. I’m going to try to get a bit stronger.’’
Arnaud Clement began slowly but finished at a canter to defeat Spain’s Carlos Moya 6-7 6-4 6-4 6-0 and move through to a fourth round clash with Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov who had another tough four-set triumph 3-6 6-4 6-2 6-2 over 19-year-old David Nalbandian of Argentina.
Kafelnikov has now played 14 sets in three matches and knows his game needs to go up a gear if he is to reach the latter stages.
‘‘To get to the fourth round here is an accomplishment,’’ said Kafelnikov. ‘‘But I need to improve my concentration because I have been playing poorly at the beginning of matches. To win the US Open I need a boost to pick up my game.’’
Order of Play for Monday September 3rd, (All times Local):
Arthur Ashe Court (11:00am)
Women’s Singles 4th Rd: (9) B Schett (Aut) v (2) J Capriati (USA)
Men’s Singles 4th Rd: (13) R Federer (Swi) v (2) A Agassi (USA), (6) Patrick Rafter (Aus) v (10) P Sampras (USA) 7:00pm
Women’s Singles 4th Rd: (18) S Testud (Fra) v (4) V Williams (USA), (4) T Johansson (Swe) v (3) M Safin (Rus)
Armstrong Court 12:00pm: Women’s Singles 4th Rd: (5) K Clijsters (Bel) v (11) E Dementieva (Rus), (8) A Mauresmo (Fra) v (9) N Tauziat (Fra)
Men’s Singles 4th Rd: M Zabaleta (Arg) v X Malisse (Bel)
Mixed Doubles Qtr Finals: (4) A Sanchez-Vicario (Spa) & J Palmer (USA) v (5) A Sugiyama (Jpn) & E Ferreira (Rsa)
Grandstand 11:00am: Women’s Doubles 3rd Rd (10) T Krizan (Slo & K Srebotnik (Slo) v D Bedanova (Cze) & M Emilia Salerni (Arg)
Men’s Doubles Qtr Finals: J Laffnie de Jager (Rsa) & R Koenig (Rsa) v (2) D Johnson (USA) & J Palmer (USA), M Bertolini (Ita) & D Bowen (USA) v (4) M Mirnyi (Blr) & S Stolle (Aus)
Women’s Doubles 3rd Rd: J Capriati (USA) & M Hingis (Swi) v K Hrdlickova (Cze) & B Rittner (Ger)
Mixed Doubles Qtr Finals: (1) R Stubbs (Aus) & T Woodbridge (Aus) v (7) A Gaelle Sidot (Fra) & S Stolle (Aus)