Today's championship match at the Duty Free Dubai Tennis Open will pit a player widely expected to reach this stage of the competition against an upstart Spanish teenager.
Top seed Nicolas Kiefer of Germany stormed into the finals with a surprisingly routine 6-2, 6-0 victory over Spain's Alberta Costa. This marks the second consecutive year in which Kiefer, 22, has reached the finals in Dubai. In Friday's quarterfinals, Kiefer avenged last year's loss by defeating defending champion Jermone Golmard of France, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2).
In Sunday's championship match, Kiefer will meet Spanish teenager Juan-Carlos Ferraro. The 19-year old Ferrero ousted Moroccan Karim Alami 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 in Saturday's other semifinal. Earlier, Ferrero survived the tournament's most dramatic match, winning a third set tiebreaker to upset sixth seed Spaniard Felix Mantilla 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7) in the quarterfinals.
Ferraro has emerged as one of the hottest young stars on the ATP tour, and should prove a formidable foe for Kiefer. Last year, Ferrero jumped more than 300 spots to reach 43rd in the world rankings. He earned his first career victory at Mallorca, thus joining Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin as the only teenagers to win on the tour last year.
Kiefer has already established himself as among the world's top talents. Last year, he became the first German player since Boris Becker to end the year ranked in the top 10. Along the way, he collected three titles, in Tokyo, Halle and Tashkent, ending the year ranked sixth in the world. Kiefer recently stirred controversy in his homeland by announcing that he would be unavailable to play on Germany's Davis Cup team throughout the current year. Citing a need to focus on his single's ranking, Kiefer made numerous enemies, among them Becker. He is still searching for his first ATP victory of the year, having already reached the semifinals of the Qatar Open and the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)