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September 8, 1999

Yevgeny Kafelnikov


USTA: Questions for Yevgeny.

Q. How crucial were the returns on his second serves?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: You know, I guess nothing much you can do about on the first serve. I mean, Richard serves 49 aces. You're just hoping and praying for the second serve. You know, I felt like first two sets I was able to do that. But then, you know, I was starting to feel a little bit tired. That's why the next two sets went pretty easy, 6-3, 6-1. But before the final set, I just try to regroup and focus basically for 30 minutes more, just try to hang on and pray for something good might happen. To be honest, I felt like, you know, it wasn't going to be much opportunities to break Richard's serve in the decisive set. I was hoping I could hold on till the tiebreaker and take my chances there.

Q. Is this among one of the toughest victories of your career?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Probably, yeah. I feel like that match stands together with probably the matches I've played in a Grand Slam finals. I mean, 7-6 in the fifth set, in the quarters of US Open, you know, it's a big effort to beat a player like Richard. Means a lot, definitely.

Q. How does it feel to face his serve?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: When I was fresh, I was able to read it perfect. When I was fresh, it was perfect. We started the match during the daylight. It was pretty important. But then, like I said, I won the first two sets, starting to feel a little bit tired. Give Richard a little bit freedom, then he started to play unbelievable, especially on his serves. 130 miles per hour, 135. I would never thought he was going to do that after two and a half hours of playing. He seems to pick up that far. Like I said, I was trying to hang on till the breaker in the fifth. I said, I wasn't going to have any more chances to break his serve.

Q. His service percentage on second serve was 36%.

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Once you have the opportunity to return the second serve, definitely goes not as hard as his first one. You kind of hoping, you know, that he was going to give you the chances on the second serve. I also realized that once he hit his second serve, I put him so much under pressure, so he had to force sometimes. I don't know how many double-faults he made, but also I think a pretty big number. He also knew if I had a chance to return his second serve, he would be facing some difficulties.

Q. You lost the previous three matches against him. You lost twice on hard court. Did you make any adjustments in your tactics?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Not as probably you would think. We play big number of times against each other. The game wasn't like we didn't know what to expect from each other. I know Richard going to bomb first serve as hard as he could. My strategy was just to try to hang on and pray for something good happens. You know, honestly, I didn't know how I break him in the first set. When I got broken at 3-All in the first set. When I got the break back at 5-4, I don't know how I was able to do that. Like I said, you praying something good that can happen. He double-fault there, missed a volley at the net, one point, somehow to sneak into the match.

Q. The only thing that one can say that might have come easily in this match were the first two tiebreakers.

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: I mean, it's hard for me to answer that question. The second tiebreaker, it wasn't as easy as probably the first one. Richard was up I think 3-1 in that breaker. He had his chances to win that set.

Q. Having prevailed in the first two tiebreakers, though, did you have a sense after the fourth that, "If I can get to a fifth set tiebreaker, I have a psychological edge"?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: No. I wasn't thinking about psychological edge. I was thinking just to get to that lottery, if you can say that; praying for one double-fault or perhaps one missed volley, like I said. In the meantime, to hold your serve in that breaker. That's what I successfully did. I won the first point in the fifth tiebreaker. Then I was able to play a couple good shots off the backhand side. Richard give me the chance to return the second serve. That's what I think was the key to win that breaker, you know, to get the lead.

Q. Even at 6-2, he comes back to 6-5.

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: I was pretty nervous at that stage. If you can look at the replay probably, I was so nervous, I was ready to serve like right after I got the balls. But then the crowd got so out of control that they almost forced me to take my time. I think it was help me. I took a deep breath. I don't know how I made that ace, but it was wonderful.

Q. How did you feel then afterwards?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: I feel incredible. To be honest, I didn't think I was going to make it after Richard came back to 6-5. 6-2, missed the easy forehand up the line. In the meantime, Richard play a couple of good serves, first two serves aces. Nothing much you can do about it. Basically you in a situation all or nothing. You got to win the point or you lose the match. It was wonderful feeling to have that ace on the match point.

Q. (Inaudible) 6-All, you might lose it?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Always comes back to mind when you having four straight match points in a row. For some weird reason, you lose the first three. Here we go, your chance, or you win the match or you lose the match. That's how I felt. I knew basically it's all the year that I was working on was basically on that point. Believe me, nice feeling now to get through that match.

Q. What do you think of the atmosphere?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: First of all, I was quite a bit shocked that they move our match from the center court to the Armstrong Stadium. You know, I was hanging in the locker room since 11 o'clock in the morning, kind of waiting for the match on the center court. For some weird reason, they move our match to the Armstrong. But I'm not going to complain. They got their own deals, the USA Network, USTA, whatever it is. The atmosphere was great. I didn't think it was going to be as excited as it was.

Q. Do you find that you feed off the electricity with the New York crowd?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: It's like a paradox. One minute they like you; the next minute they hate you for no reason whatsoever. You know, today was just wonderful. I know what fans really wanted to see. They wanted to see a breaker in the fifth set. They all stood up before we started to play the breaker. It was kind of nice.

Q. Do you think it will be nice if you and Andre face each other on center court?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: I'm sure it's going to be lightening. The fans going to go ape-shit. Having the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the semifinal, unfortunately Pete was unable to compete in the tournament, but it's going to be wonderful because that match going to be important for both of us.

Q. Do you view that match as essentially a match to determine who will be No. 1?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: I think so, yes. I think so.

Q. Could you explain?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: We both playing as well as probably we played in all our careers. We down to basically last two matches in a Grand Slam in the US Open, which is obviously important tournament for both of us. You know, Andre likes to win the Slam in front of his home crowd. I'd like to do it for many other different reasons. I just want to do it because I want to be No. 1 in the world at the end of the year. Simple as that.

Q. Do you think it would be fair to say if one of you wins The Open here, that that person is the best player?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Without a question, for the year, yes. Without a question.

Q. How would you handicap a perspective match against Andre at this point, you against him, tactics-wise?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: It's not going to be, I should say, any different tactics compared to the matches that we play before. It's going to be big-hitting groundstrokes from the baseline. Whoever's going to be mentally tough will win. I've got Andre's number; he's got my number. We play a big number of times. But like I said, it's important tournament for both of us. We never played in this stage in a Grand Slam, in a semifinal, although I did beat Andre once in the quarterfinals of the French in '95. He probably looking for that revenge.

Q. When you've had success against him, is it a case of you've done something extraordinarily well?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Yeah. I think the key was, if I look back to those matches that I had success against Andre, the serve was working extremely well. That's what I think I'm going to need in the match if I play Andre on Saturday.

Q. You used the term "mentally tough." What's happened that you've become so mentally tough now when apparently you weren't quite as mentally tough when you were losing all those matches in the first round?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: It has to do something with you guys, particularly in that period of time when I was losing so many matches. You put me so much under pressure that I wasn't able to handle it, you know, criticizing me for being No. 1 player in the world and losing so many straight matches. You know, like I was telling before, I'm the kind of player who likes to compete every single week. I wouldn't mind taking criticism even when I'm losing so many matches in a row. That's the way I am. That's what probably I'm going to stay like that for the rest of my career.

Q. Do you regard yourself as a better player than last year?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: It's hard to answer the question. You know, I've had my bad times last year and I've had my good times in the meantime last year, too. The only difference probably that I'm older than last year. It definitely has to do with probably being number of matches I've played in my career, with the experience, with the tough situation, compared to, for example, last year. Just so many things. Probably physically I'm not as good as I was before. So many come together that it's hard for me to answer the question if I'm better last year or if I'm better this year.

Q. As you referred to, you became No. 1 in the world, yet there was so much criticism of you. How did you handle that within you?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: It was not an easy thing for me to handle that, like I said, from you guys. Every time I was watching any sport news or CNN, they were just basically embarrassing me. I was losing to Ivan Ljubicic 6-1, 6-2 in the second round of Monte-Carlo. Losing to Richard Fromberg in the first round of the Prague tournament. Other players wouldn't even consider playing this tournament. I was strong enough to give myself a chance to compete with the guys even ranked lower than me, to give myself a chance to get back to the place where I was, for example, in the beginning of the year. It was quite amazing for me. I still don't understand how was I able to tough it out like that.

Q. To win here, would it be a complete redemption?

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV: Don't get me wrong, to win here would be so special, to win the third Grand Slam. I've won twice before, as you know, in French and Australian. To win the third one, if I accomplish that, it would mean a lot to me. I would think about it perhaps winning Wimbledon, thinking, "I still have four or five years left to do that." It would mean a lot.

End of FastScripts….

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