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On this day: Gustavo Kuerten ends year as world number one

Fifteen years ago today, a victory over Andre Agassi in the final of the Tennis Masters Cup secured top spot in the world rankings for Gustavo Kuerten.

The likes of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors may have all made it look relatively simple over the years, yet finishing the calendar year as the men's number one tennis player in the world is no easy assignment.

That was certainly true in the case of Gustavo Kuerten, who achieved that feat thanks to a victory over Andre Agassi 15 years ago today.

The Brazilian, who earlier in 2000 had won the second of his three French Open titles, headed into the season-ending Tour Masters Cup very much in the back seat of the race for top spot.

After all, had Marat Safin collected three victories from the event in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, there was nothing that Kuerten could have done to prevent the Russian from taking the crown. But, having won his first two games, Safin lost to Pete Sampras and then Agassi in the semi-finals, which left the door slightly ajar for Santa Catarina-born Kuerten.

To do so, he had to negotiate his way beyond Sampras in the last four and then Agassi in the final - something that nobody had achieved in the same tournament since Michael Chang at the Canadian Open in 1990.

Not only that, Kuerten had to deal with a number of fitness problems that required the use of muscle-relaxing tablets and almost constant physiotherapy. In truth, it seemed that the man from Brazil was destined to fall short.

Nevertheless, having battled back to beat Sampras (5)6-7 6-3 6-4, he faced Australian Open champion Agassi for the trophy.

Despite earning himself a number of break points, the experienced Agassi was unable to make any genuine inroads on the Kuerten serve, which was proving to be his main weapon.

In total he served 19 aces, which helped him to record a 6-4 6-4 6-4 triumph in two hours and seven minutes over a man that had defeated him 4-6 6-4 6-3 in the round-robin phase.

The title was the first that Kuerten had ever won indoors and it also saw him become the first and only South American to end the year as the world's top player.

"This is the happiest day of my life. I was really hurt, but every day I woke up things went better and better and I think I finished it in the perfect way. I felt amazingly relaxed on the court but I was also full of energy all the time," the champion told reporters.


 
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