December 3, 2000: Gustavo Kuerten downs Andre Agassi to earn great honor


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December 3, 2000: Gustavo Kuerten downs Andre Agassi to earn great honor

In 2000, Tennis Masters Cup had moved from Germany after 10 years and it found a new home at Pavilhão Atlântico in Lisbon, Portugal. The tournament was held from November 28 until December 3 and it gathered the best players in the world, including Marat Safin, Pete Sampras, and Gustavo Kuerten.

Besides the fact they competed for the last and one of the biggest titles of the season, Safin and Kuerten were also involved in the battle for the year-end number 1 position, with the Russian who had everything in his hands. Marat had opened the round robin action with wins over Alex Corretja and Lleyton Hewitt while Kuerten was beaten by Andre Agassi in the first match.

At that point, Safin needed just one more win to seal the year-end number 1 title but he lost the last group match to Pete Sampras and also the semi-final clash against Agassi, without winning a set. On the other hand, Kuerten was in a clear but almost impossible situation after that opening loss, having to win the next four matches and to hope that Safin will lose all the remaining encounters in order to pass him and finish the year as the best-ranked player.

Guga passed the group stage with wins over Magnus Norman and Yevgeny Kafelnikov and he came from behind to oust Pete Sampras in the semis, setting the final clash with Andre Agassi. On December 3, Kuerten toppled the American 6-4 6-4 6-4 to win the Masters Cup title and overcome Marat Safin in the rankings by 75 points! The match lasted two hours and six minutes and the Brazilian held his nerve to save all seven break points and steal rival's serve once in each set to prevail in three sets and start a huge celebration in front of many Brazilian fans that supported him from start to finish.

Kuerten had become the first South American who finished the season as the leading player, ending the American domination that lasted from 1992 and helping Brazil to become only the fifth country since 1973 that has given a year-end number 1 player after Romania, USA, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia! Gustavo fired 19 aces and his first serve made the biggest difference in the match, feeding him with a lot of free points and to starting the rally just like he would have wanted.

Agassi had to work harder to earn points and he couldn't hold the pressure and reach at least one tie break or take Kuerten's serve at least once and prolong the match. Kuerten blasted 35 service winners while Agassi stayed on 27, losing the edge in the backhand exchanges and also at the net where Gustavo had the upper hand.

A younger player had the upper hand from the court, hitting 50 winners and reducing Andre to around 15, although the American had a fewer number of unforced errors. That wasn't enough, though, losing the edge in the shortest and mid-range rallies and missing a chance to lift his first Masters Cup trophy since 1990.

The Brazilian broke at 15 in the opening game of the match and he fends off four break points in the fourth game to go 3-1 in front and settle into a nice rhythm. Agassi saved a break point in the following game to stay in contention and both players served well until the end of the set, with no more break chances.

Kuerten claimed the opener with a cross court forehand winner in game 10 to create the lead and grab the necessary momentum before the rest of the match. Andre saved a break point at the start of the second set, keen to avoid the first set scenario and with a chance to move ahead in game two, only to be denied by another strong serve from the Brazilian.

It was Gustavo's turn to make some damage on the return in game five and he broke at love to gain a 3-2 lead when Andre sent a backhand long. The American was in a really tough position again at 2-4, having to play against three break points and saving them all to stay within one break deficit.

Out of sudden, he had the opportunity to get back on the scoreboard, with a break point up for grabs in game 10 when Kuerten served for the set. Nonetheless, the Brazilian repelled it with a service winner, firing two additional aces to close the game and jump into a massive two sets to love lead, getting closer and closer to the finish line.

With no further room for errors, Agassi held at love at the start of the third set and he created a break point in the second game, rejected by another ace from Kuerten who clinched the game after a few more deuces to remain unbroken.

The pivotal moment came in game five when Andre double faulted to hand his serve away and Gustavo performed well in the next couple of service games to serve for the title at 5-4. A volley winner gave him a match point and he crossed the finish line with another service winner, one of the most important in his career that secured one of the biggest titles of his career and allowed him to finish the season as the year-end number 1.