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Nadal takes the spotlight off losing in Nasdaq-100 final

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published April 5, 2005


KEY BISCAYNE - Rafael Nadal sprinted across the court like a jackrabbit, racing from one end of the baseline to the other, up to the net and back while his opponent often tried to catch his breath.

Nadal never quit on a ball, many times extending points that seemed destined to end. His blistering forehand darted off the racket, his two-handed backhand had power and precision, and just for kicks he threw in the occasional slicing drop shot.

Nadal might not have beaten No. 1-ranked Roger Federer in Sunday's epic three-hour, 43-minute 2-6, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-1 Nasdaq-100 Open final, but the performance of the 18-year-old Spaniard left many asking one question:

Is this guy the future?

The powers that be should hope so.

With his swashbuckling style and aggressive, attacking play, the charismatic Nadal, who sports shorts that dip past his knees and sleeveless shirts that display a set of muscular arms, is just the type of player fans crave to see.

And while other top stars (see Andy Roddick ) have been no match for Federer's gifted skill in recent months, the left-handed Nadal is 1-1 against the Swiss star and owns a 4-3 lead in sets won.

"He's an outstanding athlete," Federer said.

"He moves totally different to most of the players. He's fast, but because he's a lefty it kind of changes so many things. His forehand is huge. Even on the run (he) can hit it with the spins. We'll see very much from him in the future."

Though he helped Spain beat the United States at the Davis Cup final in December, Nadal was somewhat of an unknown commodity before the Nasdaq, a player seen to be more of a threat on clay.

He's now ranked a career-best 17th (he was 51st when the year began) and is third on the tour this year with 22 victories. Not bad for a guy who won't turn 19 until June3.

"Any time I play well and play a match like this, I have fun," Nadal said Sunday through a translator.

"But as soon as I lose the last point, the fun stops."

For fans, the fun might only be starting.

ODDS AND ENDS: Before Saturday, the last time the Nasdaq women's singles final didn't feature an American player was 1995. ... When Martina Navratilova defeated Chris Evert to win the first Nasdaq women's title in 1985, she earned $112,500. Kim Clijsters made more than $400,000 for winning Saturday. ... In another rankings quirk, Russian Vera Zvonareva , despite losing her opening match at the Nasdaq, jumped from No.11 to No.10, switching spots with Saddlebrook's Jennifer Capriati , who missed the event with an injury. ... SFX Sports Group, which represents Pedro Martinez , Jerry Rice and eight-time Grand Slam winner Andre Agassi , has signed former world No.1 Justine Henin-Hardenne to a multiyear contract. The 22-year-old Belgian is the first active female Grand Slam champion to join the Washington, D.C., company. ... Nasdaq attendance was 263,118 for 22 sessions, the third highest total in tourney history and up 4 percent (9,096) from 2004. ... The United States Tennis Association will commit $10-million over the next 21 months to develop new programs to increase player participation and raise the profile of tennis in the U.S. USTA operating revenues are up for the fifth straight year, largely because of the U.S. Open's continued growth.

LAST WORD: "It always is that way with Andre. I didn't feel everybody was against me, but Andre is a legend. He's a living legend, a playing legend. So it's understandable. If I wasn't on the court playing, I'd be cheering for him, too." - American Taylor Dent , who lost to Agassi in the Nasdaq quarterfinals, when asked if he felt the fans were against him.

--Information from other news sources were used in this report.