Russian tennis player Yevgeny Kafelnikov has had a very productive career. Kafelnikov won two Grand Slam tournaments in singles and four in doubles, was in the status of the first racket in the world and won gold medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Eugene formed as one of the best tennis players in the mid-1990s. The first Slam victory took place at Roland Garros in 1996. This was followed by a failure at Wimbledon, where Kafelnikov lost in the first round to the British Tim Henman (6:7, 3:6, 7:6, 6:4). , 5:7 ), who finally reached the quarterfinals and began to establish himself as one of the best players on the circuit. Eugene wanted to rehabilitate himself for this failure at the US Open, but he did not perform at the tournament. The Russian withdrew at the last moment due to the frankly dismissive attitude of the organizers, who made an extremely strange ranking, regardless of the ATP ranking.
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The 22-year-old Kafelnikov was the No. 4 racket in the world before the 1996 US Open. This meant that before the semi-finals he was not threatening to face the reigning tournament champion and main dominant force in tennis of the 1990s, Pete Sampras. .
Suddenly, the organizers decided to create their own rating, which was based on the so-called “spectator rating” of tennis players and their previous achievements in difficult competition. Simply put, a completely unsportsmanlike indicator came to the fore – the popularity of a particular player among the television audience. All this was covered by the success in the hard, which was not clear how it was measured.
Evgeny Kafelnikov in 1996
Photo: Fake Images
The top 4 ATP qualifiers were supposed to look like this: Pete Sampras, Thomas Muster, Michael Chang, Evgeny Kafelnikov. After complications from the organizers, Sampras remained in first place, Muster and Chang swapped places, and Kafelnikov slipped from fourth to seventh. There was clear favoritism towards the Americans. In addition to Chang, Andre Agassi’s position improved: he ranked eighth in the ATP ranking and rose to sixth in the US Open ranking. The ninth racket in the world, Jim Courier, was in eighth place, avoiding a possible meeting with a top-level rival already in the round of 16. Malivay Washington and Todd Martin moved up to 11th and 12th place respectively, though that’s not a big deal and they weren’t considered serious title contenders by any means. Also winning were Croatian Goran Ivanisevic (jumping from sixth to fourth) and reigning Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands (from seventh to fifth).
But the organizers were not enough strange changes. The draw was held on Tuesday night, in violation of traditional procedure. In a grid of 128 people, 112 unseeded players were numbered (then 16 tennis players were seeded, and not 32, as now). And already on Wednesday the planting was announced. Previously, the seeded heads were always placed, and then the rest. The excuse of the organizers: supposedly until the last moment they collected information on the injuries of the players to be able to carry out a classification based on it. A strange explanation, since nothing similar was done for the women’s mesh.
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The next day, due to the discontent of the players, the draw was held again for the first time in the history of the US Open due to a violation of the procedure, but they did not abandon the strange seeding.
As a result, Muster and Kafelnikov remained the main victims. And Eugene is especially strong. The permutations within positions 1-4 and 5-8 can still be somewhat accepted, although they would still look very strange. But reigning Roland Garros champion Kafelnikov was unceremoniously kicked out of the top 4 and immediately dropped to seventh place. That is to say, a meeting with Sampras himself was already threatening him in the quarterfinals, and with a normal classification according to the ATP ranking and with luck, they could not have crossed paths before the final.
“I was shocked when I found out how they planted me. I won a major and I’m pretty good on difficulty. They wouldn’t do it to someone like Boris Becker and I’m coming home because I don’t want to be in a tournament doing this kind of thing. My injury is not serious enough to not play the US Open. I was interested in participating. I could improve my rating and even lead it in a certain scenario in case of a successful performance. I specifically treated the ribs to recover for this tournament. But today I realized that my whole spirits were knocked down, I am very upset and therefore I am going home. I want to send them a warning,” Kafelnikov said.
Photo: Fake Images
Eugene was a little wrong about Becker. The German withdrew from the 1996 US Open through injury, but was originally going to be seeded sixth, despite being fifth in the rankings. Although precisely in this case there is no difference and the offense is not even close to that of Kafelnikov. The Russian’s argument about playing hard seemed quite appropriate, which was also taken into account (at least in words) when drawing up the ranking, in addition to “TV rating”. Kafelnikov won four titles on this surface: twice in Adelaide (1994, 1996) and Long Island (1994, 1995). Six decisive matches were lost, but reaching the final can be considered a successful result. Another argument in favor of Eugene: when the US Open began, the Russian was the leader of the 1996 season in terms of the number of matches won (57). There was total arbitrariness on the part of the organizers. The rating was made exclusively as they wanted, without taking into account the achievements during the year.
USTA President Les Snyder justified the unusual selection method by saying that the rules of Grand Slam tournaments allow it to be formed at the discretion of the organizers. In the case of Kafelnikov, a medical report on a rib injury was taken into account, so the tennis player previously withdrew from the Genovese Hamlet Cup on Long Island, which he won twice in a row. Apparently, it was due to Yevgeny’s health problems that the organizers doubted his participation, there was no desire to please the television companies.
In fact, from the outside everything looked different. In the final they tried to bring together the main rivals of Sampras and Agassi. As Andre was going through a bit of a crisis and plunged down the rankings, he had to come up with a cunning plan. In the final key, Sampras and Agassi could only meet in the final.
“Some players complained that they treated me differently. Supposedly because the tournament and CBS want a final between Pete and me. Muster called me a prima donna, ”Agassi recalled in his autobiography Frankly.
Andre Agassi at the US Open – 1996
Photo: Fake Images
In the end, the hopes of the organizers did not come true, and they also failed to change the position of Kafelnikov. In addition, the Russian’s decision to boycott the US Open was supported by ATP Director Mark Miles and ATP Player Council Chairman Todd Martin.
“The US Open approached the grid in a way that was completely unacceptable and absolutely unfair to Yevgeny Kafelnikov. His fourth place in the ranking is the result of a year of work. He deserved his seed. The applied system is subjective and inappropriate, and also has the characteristics of American favoritism. Therefore, the ATP will not punish Kafelnikov by awarding him zero points for the tournament,” said Miles.
Kafelnikov kept the points obtained in the last US Open, 1995, when he reached the third round. This set a precedent in the history of the ATP ranking.
“It’s a matter of principles. It is about objectivity and professionalism. This ranking has tarnished the image and reputation of the tournament,” Martin said.
The 1996 US Open champion was Pete Sampras, who easily defeated Michael Chang (6-1, 6-4, 7-6) in the final. The 25-year-old Sampras won his eighth major and lifted the trophy for the fourth time in New York.
Pete Sampras won the US Open – 1996
Photo: Fake Images
Most likely, Pete would defeat any opponent that got in his way. The American performed very well specifically at the US Open, and in general, in the mid-1990s, viewers watched the prime of him. The status of the world’s first racket was undeniable. However, Chang himself is far from a fact that he would have reached the final if his ranking had not been artificially increased from third to second place. He could have lost to Pete in the semifinals or anyone else even earlier.
Ivanisevic and Agassi reached the semifinals of the US Open in 1996, which was also a consequence of the simplification of the grid. In their last match, Goran took a set from Sampras in the tie-break (3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 3-6), but Andre created no problem for Canggu (3-6, 2: 6, 2:6).
Only the 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajczek did not take advantage of the sudden drop in profits. The Dutchman at the US Open lost in the first round to the unseeded, but no less legendary six-time TBS champion, the Swede Stefan Edberg, who reached the quarterfinals and immediately ended his career on a positive note.
Injured but not eliminated, Muster was knocked out in the quarter-finals, although he could have gone further. By the way, Muster’s ground worker suffered even more on the Wimbledon grass, where, due to the unique sowing formula, he always sank a lot. The organizers made him so angry that Thomas simply refused to come to London since 1995.
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As for Kafelnikov, his absence had a negative impact on the competition. Again, it is unlikely that he would have stripped Sampras of the title, but he could have forced him to face a more worthy opponent than Chang in the final. Evgeny performed well at the end of the 1996 season: he won the tournament in Lyon, became a finalist in the Paris Masters and the Kremlin Cup, and reached the semifinals in Basel. In the final of the Munich tournament, Kafelnikov lost to Ivanishevich in the semifinals. He finished the year in third place in the ATP rankings.
At the US Open there were possibilities to go far, but putting up with the arbitrariness of the organizers is not entirely correct either. Kafelnikov said that he wanted to send them a warning. He did it. Since 1997, the US Open has reverted to the traditional ranking system. Kafelnikov, during his next visit to New York, lost unexpectedly to Australian Mark Woodford in the second round, but, together with Czech Daniel Vacek, took the doubles title. The most important thing is that the boycott of the Russians normalized the situation with planting. If Evgeny had not performed in 1996, then the organizers, quite possibly, would have continued to “go crazy” with planting at his discretion.