Yevgeny Kafelnikov looked for his second major as he faced first-time Slam finalist Thomas Enqvist in the Australian Open championship match.
Oftentimes, the label “dangerous floater” is affixed to a player who’s had some past success but is entering a tournament unseeded due to a poor stretch of form or as they make their way back from injury. That tag can also be a burden for the floater as unwanted attention comes their way.
Enqvist found no such trouble with that at the 1999 Australian Open.
Having started off the year with a triumph in Adelaide, the 14-time title winner and former member of the top 10 reached the first major final of his career in Melbourne. Unseeded due to a chunk of time missed the year prior because of surgery, the Swede dashed local hopes along the way with wins over Patrick Rafter and Mark Philippoussis.
In the final, he’d face world No. 10 Kafelnikov. The Russian advanced to his first major championship match since his 1996 win at the French Open. Facing a mix of veterans and up-and-comers throughout the tournament, Kafelnikov found his groove by the later stages, winning his quarterfinal and semifinal matches in straight sets.
Facing each other for the seventh time in their careers, Enqvist entered the match with a 4-2 edge, which included a win in their most recent encounter at the 1998 French Open. He managed to take the first set of the final 6-4.
Kafelnikov, playing in the tournament for the first time in three years, wasn’t rattled, though. Renowned for his heavy workload in singles and doubles, the Russian settled in for the long haul as Enqvist’s game came unfurled. He raced through the second set 6-0, then took the first three games of the third, eventually claiming it by a 6-3 scoreline.
In the fourth set, the two players—whose hard-hitting baseline styles are a near-mirror image of each other—stayed on even ground. However, when it eventually went to a tiebreak, it was all Kafelnikov. Serving down 1-6, Enqvist double-faulted to give the world No. 10 the second major title of his career.
Between his Grand Slam titles at the 1996 French Open and ‘99 Australian, Kafelnikov failed to reach a major semifinal with his best showing coming at the ‘97 French Open, when he advanced to the quarterfinals.
This would be Enqvist's first and only career Grand Slam final appearance.
Prior to his win at the Australian Open, Kafelnikov’s last hard-court title came two years earlier during the summer of 1997, when he defeated Patrick Rafter in the New Haven final. His subsequent triumphs came on carpet and grass.
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