Thomas Muster reclaimed the No. 1 ranking from Pete Sampras on Sunday by defeating Jiri Novak 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 to win the Mexican Open for the fourth time.
Muster, who on Feb. 12 became the 13th player to hold the No. 1 spot in the 23-year history of the rankings, was passed by Sampras after one week at No. 1.Sampras won the Sybase Open in San Jose, Calif., on Feb. 18 to recapture the top spot, but Muster's win Sunday, coupled with Sampras' withdrawal from the quarterfinals in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, because of a sprained right foot, catapulted Muster back to No. 1 by 19 points on the ATP Tour computer.
"It was good to win today because it proved I can be No. 1 by my own power," said Muster, a clay court specialist from Austria who has won this event every year it has been played. "I became No. 1 on my own. There's no bad smell about my being No. 1 this time."
Muster is the first player since John McEnroe to win an event four consecutive years. McEnroe won in Philadelphia 1982-85.
Muster first took over the top spot following a Davis Cup week when there were no ATP Tour events played. Because of a change in the schedule from last year, Muster passed then-No. 1 Andre Agassi because Agassi's points from winning San Jose in 1995 dropped off on Feb. 12 before the 1996 San Jose event, which was played one week later this year.
Novak led 4-2 in the first set before Muster fought back to force a tiebreak by breaking Novak's serve in the eight game. Novak jumped to a 3-1 lead in the tiebreak, but Muster played flawless tennis to win the next six points and take the momentum.
"The tennis in the first set was as good or better than against Michael Chang at Roland Garros," Muster said, comparing it with the 1995 French Open final that he won.
Novak won his first career ATP Tour title two months ago in New Zealand. This was his second career final. Muster now owns 36 career titles, which is fourth among active players. Twelve of those came last year, when he made his push for No. 1. Last year Muster came into this tournament ranked No. 18.
Both Sampras and Muster, along with No. 3 Andre Agassi, will all be playing next week at the Newsweek Champions Cup in Indian Wells, Calif., the first Mercedes Super 9 event of the year. Sampras is the defending champion.
At Scottsdale, Ariz., Wayne Ferreira recovered from a weak first set to capture his first ATP Tour title of the year, defeating Marcelo Rios 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 Sunday to win the Franklin Templeton Tennis Classic.
Ferreira, the top seed from South Africa, lost his serve twice in the opening set before holding serve the rest of the match.
"I struggled at the beginning and then after I saved those break points in the first game of the second set, I played well all around," he said.
Ferreira, ranked 10th in the world, captured his 12th career ATP Tour title. It was his ninth consecutive win in a final dating to August 1994 when he won the RCA Championships in Indianapolis.
Ferreira broke in the fourth game of the second set and then hit a running forehand crosscourt winner on break point to go ahead 3-2 in the decisive set.
"I knew once I broke him in that game I would be in control of the match," said Ferreira, who fired 10 aces in the 89-minute match. "I was holding serve pretty easily and that definitely was the turning point."
Rios, the sixth seed from Chile, is ranked No. 20 on the ATP Tour and was appearing in his first career Tour hardcourt final. The left-hander won three ATP Tour titles last year.
Rios came into Sunday's final having dropped serve only three times in four matches.
"It was a tough match and he played well in the third set," he said. "I didn't realize he played so well from the baseline. That break at two-all was big."
Rios was the first Chilean to reach an ATP Tour final in the United States since Hans Gildemeister in Boston in 1981.
At Rotterdam, Netherlands, Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia won the ABN AMRO indoor tennis tournament Sunday, beating Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Ivanisevic, ranked No. 6 in the world before the tourney and seeded second, started slowly but won the first set in only 29 minutes nonetheless.
Serving at 3-4 in the second set, Ivanisevic appeared to lose his concentration, allowing his opponent two break points. He finally surrendered the game with a double fault, losing his first set of the tournament.
Ivanisevic received an automatic warning for "abuse of racket" and lost his serve again to go 2-3 down in the final set.
But then Ivanisevic reasserted himself, winning four straight games and converting his second match point with a particularly strong service ace.
After top-seeded Pete Sampras withdrew Friday with an injury to his right foot, Ivanisevic was favored to Rotterdam to a list of 1996 ATP victories that included Zagreb, Dubai and Milan.
He remained sixth in the rankings after gaining 258 ATP points, but Kafelnikov moved up from eighth to seventh.