| SHANGHAI SHOCK: A dejected Andre Agassi of the US after losing his round robin match against Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain in Shanghai on Thursday. Ferrero won 7-5, 2-6, 7-6 (8-6). (Reuters)
Shanghai: Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt clinched the year-end world No. 1 ranking without lifting a racket on Thursday as his only rival for the top spot, Andre Agassi, slumped to a 5-7, 6-2, 6-7 (6-8) defeat to Juan Carlos Ferrero in the Tennis Masters Cup.
Agassi fought for his life but could not outlast the Spaniard and prevent Hewitt finishing the year as world number one for a second successive year.
The American needed to win the $3.7 million tournament to stand a chance of becoming the oldest player to end a year top of the pile, and having already lost to Jiri Novak in his opening Gold Group match, he needed to win to stay alive in the contest.
Agassi’s disappointment was palpable afterwards as he struggled to describe his feelings. “I don’t think it would be possible (to explain) really... I wouldn’t know how to communicate it.”
But he looked ill at ease and distracted as he frittered away the opening set, netting a backhand on Ferrero’s third set point. It was a different Agassi who roared on to the court for the second set, though, and he reeled off the first four games to put himself firmly in charge.
Pummelling groundstrokes, stepping in to searing returns and stretching the Spaniard with angled serves and volleys he thrilled the crowd with some textbook tennis to level the match.
The pair stood toe-to-toe for the third set, Agassi hitting harder and harder and Ferrero retrieving for all his worth.
Agassi saw a glimmer of light in the ninth game when he earned two break points but he missed the first with a flicked backhand off a drop shot and Ferrero saved the second with an ace before holding on.
The American showed no such nerves, shoving winners into the corners of the court with his double-handed backhand and firing forehands past Ferrero’s reach. Once more Ferrero forged ahead 6-5 by holding serve.
Once more Agassi proved himself up to the task, staving off one match point and forcing a tie-break with a thunderous forehand winner down the line. He nosed ahead in the tie-break but allowed Ferrero back into it and a forehand fired long gave Ferrero three more match points at 6-3.
Agassi fought them off but immediately netted a forehand to give the Spaniard his fifth match point. Ferrero needed no heroics on this one as Agassi tamely threw in a double fault.
Earlier, Roger Federer out-gunned Novak 6-0, 4-6, 6-2.