Rafter, Kuerten to clash in SAR

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 12:00am

Brazilian ace Gustavo Kuerten and Australia's Patrick Rafter, whose recent form has solidified their reputations as two of the hottest stars on the circuit, have been pencilled in to play in September's US$375,000 Salem Open. Kuerten grabbed his second French Open crown at Roland Garros in June, while two-time US Open champion Rafter reached the Wimbledon final two weeks ago to mark his comeback from shoulder surgery.

The pair have been confirmed for the tournament along with German number one Nicolas Kiefer at Victoria Park from September 30 to October 8. Kuerten said he was looking forward to returning to the SAR after reaching the final of the Marlboro Championships four months after winning his first French Open crown in 1997. He was beaten by Zimbabwe's Byron Black in that final but was a favourite among fans and the media for his grace and sporting manner.

'The last time I was in Hong Kong I had a great time. Hong Kong is a nice place and they have a good court. It should be a great week. It's always interesting going to different places. Hong Kong is completely different from the rest of the world,' said the 23-year-old Brazilian, who has slipped to fourth in the ATP ranking, but is number one in the money list.

'This year has been a great year for me. I am playing really well and I hope to win in Hong Kong,' he said.

Rafter, who has played in the SAR four times before but is still looking for that elusive first win here, is also a favourite with the crowd. Ironically, Rafter and Kuerten played each other in Davis Cup competition last week in Brazil where Australia won 5-0. Rafter won in straight sets.

The 27-year-old Queenslander has reached the Salem Open final twice - in 1994 and 1997 - both times losing to American Michael Chang. The serve-and-volley specialist indicated his return to full fitness by beating current world number one Andre Agassi in the semi-finals at the All England Club before losing to American great Pete Sampras in four sets in the final.

Organisers said Salem's sponsorship will continue for the eleventh year and that it would not be seriously affected by local anti-tobacco legislation.