Pavel upsets Rafter to win TMS-Canada

After blowing an ace past Patrick Rafter to clinch the $2.95 million US Tennis Masters Series-Canada, Andrei Pavel dropped to his knees and kissed the DecoTurf court.

"This is the highest by far for me," said Pavel after his 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-3 victory over the two-time U.S. Open champion from Australia on Sunday at du Maurier Stadium.

"I was late coming over from clay to hard courts. But I won the first match and then the second and my confidence went up. It was perfect. I couldn't believe it.

"To beat Rafter in the final of a Masters Series -- I imagine how Goran (Ivanisevic) felt at Wimbledon," he added. "This is a step back from that, but it's still a huge tournament. It's one of the biggest in the world."

Boosted by a strong contingent of flag-waving Romanian fans among the 11,132 at the sold-out stadium, the 27-year-old Pavel scored his third career ATP victory, but his first in the Masters Series, which ranks just below the grand slams in prestige and prize money.

"There's a huge amount of Romanians in Montreal," said Pavel, who won $400,000 US and jumped from 46th to 20th place in ATP standings.

Rafter took home $211,000.

"As the week went on, more people came with more stuff," added Pavel, of Constanta, Romania, who became the first from that country to win the tournament since Ilie Nastase in 1972. "It's amazing to be so far from home and have this crowd.

"I've seen it for Brazilians or Chileans in Miami or Indians at the Olympics in Australia, but there's not many Romanians where I've been before. It's beautiful."

The unseeded Pavel, who ousted American prodigy Andy Roddick and Germany's Tommy Haas en route to the final, needed a single service break in the match -- for a 5-3 lead in the third set lead -- to win.

Rafter ended Pavel's 46-game streak without losing a service game by breaking the Romanian twice in the second set.

But Pavel righted himself in the third and saw Rafter, who attacks the net at every occasion -- hit a backhand volley long by an inch on break point. Pavel served out for the victory.

"He played well and did all the right things at the right times,' said Rafter. "He played smart in the third set."

"In a close match, that's how it goes."

It was Rafter's first tournament since his heartbreaking loss to Ivanisevic in the Wimbledon final and left him without a victory in more than a year.

"It's getting boring being close in tournaments and not finishing them off," said Rafter, who won the Canadian event in 1998 in Toronto. "But it was a good week.

"If someone had said finals at the beginning of the week, I'd have been fine with that."

Rafter is considering retirement at the end of this season and sounded all-but ready to hang up the racquet after the loss.

"It's my 12th year," he said. "It's very tiring, very boring.

"You'll miss the competition more than anything, but some days, it's very ordinary. And sometimes you don't want to deal with people expecting you to win all the time and getting down on you if you don't.

"I want to live normal. I know. . . what is normal? I don't want a nine-to-five job, but I want to do normal things -- have a family, be based in one spot."

He added that if he decides to play next season, he will "`definitely" play the Master Series event in Toronto.

If he doesn't, he will leave the sport with one regret.

"Wimbledon is the one that really hurts," said Rafter, who also lost last year's Wimbledon final to Pete Sampras. "That's the one I dreamed of as a kid.

"It would have been nice, but winning a grand slam, which happened to be the U.S. Open, was pretty satisfying."

Rafter, who will play at Cincinnati this week to tune up for the U.S. Open, played most of his matches in the cool of the evening, but then switched to bright daylight and intense heat on centre court for the final.

He said the ball was "flying" as he contended with Pavel's tricky baseline shots.

The tournament, which alternates annually between Toronto and Montreal, tends to produce quirky winners, like Pavel, when it is held in Montreal.

Pavel has been drawn to face the surprise winnner of the 1999 tournament, Thomas Jjohansson of Sweden, on Tuesday in the first round of another Master Series event this week in Cincinnati.

It won't leave Pavel much time to celebrate.

"I'll have a half a day to celebrate, a half a day of flying and half a day of practising," he said.

In the doubles final, Jiri Novak and David Rikl of the Czech Republic beat Donald Johnson and Jared Palmer of the United States 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in a rematch of the Wimbledon doubles final.

The Americans won in four sets at Wimbledon.

Novak and Rikl shared the $152,800 top prize while Johnson and Palmer won $80,640.

The tournament drew 165,611 fans during the week, a record for the event.

By Bill Beacon