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Day Five: Rafter and Kiefer Duke It Out Again
by Christopher Gerby

Thomas Johansson vs. Jim Courier
Singles: Quarterfinal
Court Central

Thomas Johansson, #22 player in the world and this week's #11 seed, got a relatively kind draw in Montreal, at least on paper -- he advanced to the quarterfinals without facing a seed. However, his win over Sebastien Lareau on Thursday was far from easy and his quarterfinal opponent, Jim Courier, isn't your average floater either. Courier announced his semifinal intentions by opening the match with a convincing love hold. These quick courts have been working to the Swede's advantage, though, and he quickly snared a hold of his own. Courier then played a wretched game, ending a love break with a double fault and two unforced errors. He didn't waste too much time getting back on serve, though, breaking Johansson for 3-3. After an ace and a nice drop volley helped him win Game 7, Courier appeared to have the momentum. Thomas held for 4-4, though, and got a break point when Courier badly shanked a 30-30 forehand. Courier then netted a backhand to fall behind 4-5. Johansson got into some trouble trying to serve it out, but Courier bricked a swinging volley for 30-30 and a Johansson ace brought up set point. Courier countered with a drop shot, but Thomas skillfully ran it down and pushed a backhand winner up the line to claim a 6-4 win of the opening set.

Courier's been in bigger trouble than this before and he still appeared to be striking the ball pretty confidently. The first four games of the second game went with serve, Jim extending his surprising lead over Johansson in the ace department. Another exchange of holds made it 3-3, both players sprinkling in some errors but generally looking solid off the ground. Johansson then jumped out to a 0-40 lead against Courier's serve. However, the 24-year-old chipped a backhand into the net and Courier drilled a pair of forehand winners for deuce. It was a fine comeback, but Jim's good fortune didn't last -- he sent a forehand wide and netted another swing volley. The American tossed his racquet to his chair, now down a break at 3-4. Never one to throw in the towel, though, Courier got to 30-40 in Game 8 and took control of the ensuing rally after Johansson put in a second serve. Undeterred, Johansson kept getting balls back and finally drilled a backhand winner down the line for deuce. Courier got another break chance, but uncharacteristically followed it with three errors in a row for 3-5. Courier tenaciously stormed through a love hold to 4-5, but he was still down and nearly out.

The pressure was on Johansson, but he hammered an ace for 30-0. After missing a forehand for 30-15, he guided a backhand winner down the line for a 40-15 lead and double match point. Unhappy about the non-call on the Johansson serve which started that rally, Courier had some words with chair umpire Norm Chryst. Jim then muttered an expletive to a linesman, who ran all the way across the court to inform Chryst. Courier was then hit with a code violation (a warning for "unsportsmanlike conduct") and flipped out, pleading his case to Chryst and then charging right back over to the linesman. When all was finally said and done, Johansson netted a backhand to keep the match alive at 40-30. He looked a little tentative on his second match point, but Courier bailed him out by smacking one last forehand into the net, finishing the 6-4, 6-4 bout in an even 90 minutes.

Thomas Johansson
It goes down as a very good win for Johansson, extending his career record against Courier to 3-1. Afterwards, I asked him if -- following a long match yesterday -- he was relieved to come through this one in straight sets. "Yeah, I was very relieved. When I went into the court today, I was a little bit tired, after the match yesterday. That match yesterday took a lot of strength out of me. I think I played very solid today. Maybe I was not serving as well as I did yesterday, but I played solid from the baseline and tried to keep the ball away from his forehand." The press actually kept Johansson around for quite a while, perhaps assuming that Courier would be making his customarily late arrival in the interview room.

Jim Courier
Jim finally did come in and was in relatively good humor. He explained the code violation incident. "I go over and tell the guy who's making the line calls that he should take his sunglasses off because it's pitch black out there. You know, I maybe muttered something, you know, telling him he's a f***in' idiot under my breath. So he jumps out like a tattle-tale, like he's in elementary school, runs over and tells the umpire. That'll get him far in life. So, basically, he just proved my theory that he is a f***in' idiot." I asked Jim a follow-up a question: "I know Agassi had that same problem in San Jose, but was this the first time you've ever been ratted out like that?" Courier finished a sip of water and replied, "I think it is the first time anyone -- nicely put -- ratted me out. It's just kinda sad, isn't it?"

4 Hour-Plus Rain Delay:
In the words of a song which played on the Stade du Maurier sound system this afternoon, "the sun doesn't shine every day." Ain't that the truth. Fans who watched the Courier-Johansson match had to wait a full four and a half hours before Andre Agassi and Fabrice Santoro finally took the court for their quarterfinal match. A pretty major rainstorm was to blame -- it took an impressive court-drying effort just to get the Agassi match started at the time it did. Not a fun afternoon for the fans and it couldn't have been very enjoyable for the players. Particularly annoyed had to be Santoro and Patrick Rafter who, in addition to their singles matches, were slated to play doubles against one another on Friday.

Patrick Rafter vs. Nicolas Kiefer
Singles: Quarterfinal
Court Central

Rising young German star Nicolas Kiefer knows a thing or two about beating Patrick Rafter on a hard court. Kiefer essentially ruined Rafter's spring campaign, topping the Aussie at Indian Wells and the Lipton. The Indian Wells match was among the very best I've seen all season, so their third meeting was likely to be a barn burner. The early stages were serve-dominated, both players winning their share of easy points on the path to 3-3. Just like he had earlier this year, though, Kiefer really started to get on Rafter's serve and make his life difficult. The Agassi play-alike took a 4-3 lead, breaking the #1 seed at 30 on a winning backhand return. Kiefer smacked an ace to hold for 5-3. Nicolas then hit three terrific returns in a love break, clinching a 6-3 set when a desperate looking Rafter made a poor drop shot attempt from too far back, plopping it in the net.

The first four games of the second set went with serve, but Patrick was looking frustrated, once slamming his racquet after floating a return long. The fifth game of the set featured some of the highest quality tennis of the week. Rafter came over his backhand, ripping a winner for 15-30...but Kiefer responded with a backhand volley winner for 30-30. Rafter got to 30-40 with a winning volley of his own...but Kiefer fought off the break point by with a nicely angled forehand volley. Rafter was not to be denied -- he snapped off a big backhand overhead (a shot he hits better than anyone else in the sport) to take the advantage and then broke for 3-2, a big return forcing Kiefer to miss a volley. A series of holds took the second set score to 5-4, Rafter still clinging to a tenuous lead. Tenuous because Kiefer was still hitting big returns and passing shots, forcing Rafter into volleys that even he found too difficult to pull off. He got to break point four times in that 10th game, finally breaking for 5-5 with a winning forehand return. Both players went to their towels, settling in for what was sure to be a tense conclusion to the set.

Rafter bounced his racquet again in the 11th game, waiting one point to get a replacement (probably so he could avoid a "racquet abuse" code violation). Frustrated though he was, Pat got to 30-40 on a Kiefer error. Rafter hit a defensive lob just long on break point, though, and lost another break chance a couple points later. Kiefer is prone to becoming discouraged and folding when the going gets tough, but he was giving no quarter tonight. He held for 6-5 and sprinted back out to the court after the changeover, perhaps trying to do a little "look at how fresh and confident I am" psych job on Rafter. It didn't work -- Rafter held at love, forcing a tiebreak. This is where the two-time U.S. Open champion figured to take over, but instead he fell behind 5 points to 1, missing a backhand half-volley and an easy forehand volley along the way. Kiefer netted a return for 5-2 and next tried a drop shot, only to see Rafter run it down and send a winning reply up the line. When Kiefer erred on a defensive lob, the 'breaker was back on serve at 5-4. Rafter kept his roll going with a service winner and a flawless forehand volley, pumping his fist after the latter. Just a matter of moments after being on the brink of elimination, Patrick Rafter had arrived at set point. Kiefer sent a backhand long and the crowd erupted. Second set to the fan favorite, 7 points to 5 in the tiebreak.

As the third set got underway, Kiefer's fondness for his towel was becoming ridiculous. Whether it was a stalling tactic or a legitimate need to dry his hands after virtually every point, it earned him a time violation in the opening game of the third set. Kiefer didn't even appear to notice -- he broke serve right there and then held for a 2-0 lead. The holds continued to 3-2, when Kiefer took a bathroom break. As it had for Mark Knowles yesterday, the delay seemed to hurt the player who opted for it -- Kiefer was broken at 15 when he returned, knotting the set at 3-all. Rafter trailed 0-30 in the following game, but stormed through the next four points, holding with an ace. The set's eighth game featured a downright indescribable all-court rally, finally ending when Kiefer knocked off a volley winner for 30-15. The next rally was also a long, spectacular one -- Rafter won it and raising his arms to thunderous applause. Kiefer held serve, however. They exchanged holds again for 5-5, the tension mounting as the temperature fell. Game 11 was dramatically poised at 30-30, but Rafter closed it out with two winners (a volley and a serve).

The fans realized that the changeover at 6-5 would be the last of the match and gave the players a big ovation as they left their chairs, many shouting "Rafter!" and some countering with "Kiefer!" Both players were worthy of some shouted support -- this really had developed into one of those matches neither player deserved to lose. Kiefer served the match into a tiebreak, surviving one deuce. Here's a point-by-point recap of the third set 'breaker...

Kiefer raised his arms and repeatedly pumped his fists. After being jeered by much Nicolas Kiefer
of the crowd, Kiefer now basked in their polite applause, relishing his 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 elimination of the world's #2 player. He slowly turned to all four sides of the court, applauding with his racquet, and then smacked a ball clear out of the stadium. Kiefer is now one win away from his first Super Nine final...and he has won both of his previous encounters with semifinal opponent Thomas Johansson. The German seemed very pleased as he strode into the interview room, a candy bar (probably the healthy variety) in hand. "You mind if I take a bite of this sometimes, because I'm hungry?" The #9 seed speaks in somewhat broken English, but is fluent enough to get his points across. Asked for the secret to beating Patrick Rafter, Nicolas grinned and said, "I won't tell you. I keep it in my mind."

Rafter did not make an appearance in the interview room -- he was on his way out to Court 1 for his doubles quarterfinal. It was nearly midnight when Rafter and Jonas Bjorkman finished off their 6-4, 6-4 win over Olivier Delatire and Fabrice Santoro, but there were still a few reporters hoping to get a few words with Pat. An ATP Tour rep led four of us into the training room for a brief, intimate chat with the Aussie superstar. We were huddled about two feet away from Rafter, who was wearing nothing but a pair of shorts as his sore right shoulder was tended to by veteran ATP trainer Bill Norris. Patrick hinted that the shoulder problem might cause him to miss a tournament this month, but blamed the singles loss on his own serving. "It's just not good enough, not consistent enough." I asked Rafter if, despite tonight's nightmare schedule, he and Bjorkman were planning to give the doubles a go at the U.S. Open. "No, I'm not playing. This is my last one, last tournament in doubles. I already pulled out of next week's doubles with Jonas. No more doubles for me."

E Ferreira/Leach vs. Grabb/Ivanisevic
Doubles: Quarterfinal
Court Central
Goran Ivanisevic
While Bjorkman and Rafter were toiling on Court 1, the stadium played host to another doubles quarterfinal. #5 seeds Ellis Ferreira and Rick Leach -- veterans who have been playing together for quite a while, with good success -- battled the pick-up team of Jim Grabb and Goran Ivanisevic. Just telling Ferreira and Leach apart from the top of the stadium (where the press box is located) was a bit of a struggle. They're both left-handed white guys and they were wearing matching outfits tonight. In fact, Grabb's attire (white shirt, off-white shorts, white shoes) also matched theirs. Goran, naturally, was the colorful standout, with big patches of dark blue on his clothes and a backwards-turned cap on his head.

Ferreira and Leach were leading 3-2 when I arrived. Almost immediately thereafter, they were up 5-4. A tiebreak looked almost inevitable, but Ivanisevic struggled in the 10th game. A pair of Ferreira forehand winners got the seeded team to 15-40. Then a forehand return by Leach snuck under Ivanisevic's racquet, breaking the big Croatian and completing a 6-4 set. Ferreira held serve to open the second set. Ivanisevic, despite lousing up the end of the opening set, served first for his team in the second and did so successfully. 12 games had already been completed in just 28 minutes, which goes to show how much success these guys were having in their return games. Leach got to 2-1 without dropping a point -- it was his team's fourth conseuctive love hold. Grabb double faulted at 30-30 in the next game and Ferreira (no relation to Wayne) immediately capitalized with a winning forehand pass down the line. Ellis was definitely establishing himself as the star of the match.

A frustrated Grabb smacked a ball into the stands midway through the set's fifth game, picking up a "ball abuse" code violation for his trouble. Ferreira held for a 4-1 lead and the trailing team threw their towels down in disgust during the changeover which followed. Ivanisevic played a great service game, though -- a love hold on an ace and three service winners made it 2-4. Leach was then pushed to deuce, but Grabb missed a forehand return and cried out in despair. On game point, an Ivanisevic return clipped the tape and Ferreira pounced on it, ripping a backhand winner for a 5-2 lead. It was still just one break, though. Grabb opened Game 8 with an ace and made an exaggerated fist pump, either being sarcastic or trying to fire up the small crowd (or maybe just trying to stay warm in the chilly night air). Jim held for 3-5 and hit a winning volley early in Leach's service game, taking an early 0-30 lead. Grabb was still in a major funk on his returns, however. He missed another at 30-30, bringing us to match point. Ferreira hit a good serve there and put away an easy overhead smash to end a 6-4, 6-3 victory. Foiled by their inability to break serve, Grabb and Ivanisevic were bounced from the tournament in a brisk 48 minutes.

Next up for Ferreira and Leach is a Saturday night semifinal showdown with Byron Black and Wayne Ferreira. I'm pleased (or at least amused) to report that the woman with the long, blond, braided hair was back on Friday, vociferously supporting Byron and Wayne. They once again did her proud, scratching out a 7-6, 7-6 quarterfinal win over Robbie Koenig (who had a cool red-and-gold brace on his knee) and Andrei Olhovskiy.