Hewitt Reigns Before Rain

Times Staff Writer

Half of the men's final bracket for the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament was settled by Australian star Lleyton Hewitt and the other half was disrupted by an afternoon downpour that washed out the match between Gustavo Kuerten and Rainer Schuettler.

Hewitt beat American qualifier Vince Spadea, 7-6 (5), 6-1, in a match that ended at 12:46 p.m. An hour and a half later, the rain sent Brazil's Kuerten and Germany's Schuettler for shelter, as well as a crowd estimated at 11,000 in the 16,000-seat Indian Wells Garden. Kuerten led at the time, 6-2, 0-1.

The rain put tournament officials in a complicated position. They had scheduled, for the first time, a Sunday with both the men's and women's finals. That was dictated, of course, by television, which was to broadcast the men's final at 9:30 a.m. on Channel 7 and the women's final, between Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters, at noon on ESPN2.

They waited until 7:30 p.m. Saturday, more than five hours of steady rain after Kuerten and Schuettler had left the court, to announce that today's schedule had been shuffled. The finish of the Kuerten-Schuettler match is to begin at 9 a.m., followed immediately by the women's final, on Channel 7. That put the men's final at noon on ESPN2. The TV switch apparently was made easier by the fact that ABC and ESPN are both owned by Disney. The women's and men's doubles finals, both rained out Saturday, will follow the men's singles final, in that order, with the possibility that one or both will be moved to an outside court.

Officials also announced that ticket holders who had seats in the upper bowl for Saturday's matches would be allowed to exchange them for similar seats. There will be no refunds, just exchanges.

Hewitt, No. 1 in the world and on a streak that has carried him through the title last Sunday in Scottsdale and to 10 match victories in 12 days, was facing something of a mirror image in Spadea, albeit an older and less successful mirror image.

Spadea is 28, six years Hewitt's senior, but has made a career of grinding out wins from the baseline with long, sometimes torturous rallies. Although he was once ranked as high as No. 19 on the ATP tour and may be as high as the top 40 after his success in this Tennis Masters Series event, his main claim to fame is that he suffered a tour-record 21 straight defeats in late 1999 and early 2000.

Spadea wasn't even ranked high enough six weeks ago to get into the Indian Wells tournament when the main draw was closed, so he had to go through two days of qualifying last weekend and then win four more matches to get to the semifinal spot opposite Hewitt.

Having achieved that, he gave the speedy, heady Hewitt all he could handle. For a while.

Spadea ran off to a 4-1 lead and fought off the attacking Hewitt to get into a tiebreaker. After trailing, 6-3, he got back to 6-5 when Hewitt uncharacteristically double-faulted. But then came the moment that changed everything for Spadea.

With Hewitt still holding set point, but with fans chanting "Vinny, Vinny, Vinny" -- something Spadea said later he has seldom heard -- the American missed his first serve and was about to hit his second when a ball boy in his vision to his right dropped a ball and ran to pick it up. Spadea, whose service game is not his main strength, stopped his motion, restarted and promptly double-faulted, missing long by several feet.

"I didn't play a great tiebreaker," Spadea said. "I played a little too defensively."

Hewitt said that the match turned in a combination of areas -- when he rallied from 4-1 down in the first set, and when Spadea double-faulted.

"It was an interesting way to end it," Hewitt said.

In the second set, Spadea looked tired and deflated.

"I just ran out of gas a little bit," he said, "and he upped his level slightly."

Hewitt, who has a 17-4 record at Indian Wells and last lost here in the 2001 semifinals to Andre Agassi, has lost only once in 14 matches on the tour this year. The loss was in four sets to Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco in the fourth round of the Australian Open.

"I think I have been getting better and better with every match," Hewitt said.

In the doubles finals, also a casualty of Saturday's downpour, the Bryan brothers of Camarillo, Bob and Mike, seeded third here, will play veterans Wayne Ferreira of South Africa and Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, an unseeded team. A victory would give the Bryans 10 on the tour, tying the record for brother teams held by Tom and Tim Gullikson. The women's doubles, will be a rematch of the Scottsdale final two weeks ago, when Clijsters and Ai Sugiyama beat Davenport and Lisa Raymond.

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