Agassi leads international brigade for Madrid Masters
By Kevin Fylan
MADRID, Oct 13 (Reuters) - A tense battle for Champions Race points should provide the drama and help offset the withdrawal of world number one Lleyton Hewitt when the inaugural Madrid Masters begins in a converted rock concert hall on Monday.
The indoor tournament, which is being held in the Spanish capital for the first time after shifting from Stuttgart, was dealt a blow on Friday when Hewitt, the Wimbledon champion, was forced to pull out because of a viral infection.
U.S. Open champion Pete Sampras is also missing but, with Andre Agassi leading the international brigade and three-times French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten accepting a wild card, the field is still strong.
The closest finish in the three-year history of the Champions Race should also ensure there is plenty of excitement generated.
With three weeks to go in the regular ATP season, only Hewitt and Agassi are assured of places in the lucrative Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai.
Top Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, ranked fourth and a Masters Series winner in Monte Carlo, is among the players still with work to do to make certain of one of the six remaining places and he is expecting a tough battle.
"There are a lot of players high up there in the rankings and they're all going to be challenging," Ferrero said as he prepared for the tournament. "There's also bound to be the usual surprise or two.
"It would be a great prize to be there for the Shanghai Masters after fighting it out all season. For me, it would mean I was among the best players in the world for the second successive season."
Apart from Ferrero, Spanish hopes will rest on Alex Corretja, champion in Gstaad and Kitzbuehel, and Carlos Moya, who has won four titles this year, including the Cincinnati Masters.
French Open champion Albert Costa has been struggling on indoor courts and his main goal will be to stay ahead of fellow grand slam winners Sampras and Thomas Johansson to keep tabs on his Masters Cup place.
While the Spaniards will doubtless receive extremely vocal backing, the main draw for the Madrid crowd will be Agassi.
Over 6,000 fans turned up on the tournament's opening day on Saturday. That was ostensibly to see a series of qualifying matches but most of the attention was on Agassi as the popular American played a practice game
okay Hackie. his match will be start at 1:00 PM EST. so i'll be stuck in boring english class learning about nouns and adjectives while Juan Carlos is battling it out on the court. what has the world come to? well maybe i will cut class and come join you here for live scores. maybe...