Top-seeded Rafael Nadal ran his winning streak on clay to 34 matches yesterday, beating Gaston Gaudio, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, to claim the Mercedes Cup title in Stuttgart, Germany.

Nadal's eighth title this year -- tying ATP leader Roger Federer -- came against last year's French Open champion, whose record on clay is next best to the Spanish teenager's 48-2 mark.

"I won in three sets, but the match was very close," Nadal said. "He's one of the best players on clay in the world."

The French Open champion picked up his 10th career title in 11 finals and kept alive a clay-court winning streak dating from April -- the sixth-longest in history.

Nadal needed 2 hours 41 minutes to beat the Argentine, who came into the match with a 37-7 record on clay and four titles. Gaudio had also won three of their four previous meetings.

The Spaniard had his serve broken twice, but he immediately broke back both times in a match full of drop shots, lobs and fierce rallies that had the 5,500 spectators cheering.

Nadal will pass Lleyton Hewitt for the No. 2 world ranking today, and he also sealed his berth in the year-ending Tennis Masters in Shanghai. At 19, he is the youngest to qualify for the tour championships since Andrei Medvedev in 1993. . . .

Top-seeded Patty Schnyder found her serve in time to beat Akiko Morigami, 6-4, 6-0, in the final of the Cincinnati Women's Open.

* PRO BASKETBALL: Knicks owner James Dolan of Cablevision met with prospective coach Larry Brown, who had wanted to speak first with interim coach Herb Williams. Dolan's visit with Knicks President Isiah Thomas to Brown's home in East Hampton, N.Y., represented the next step in the Knicks' wooing of Brown, a pursuit that figures to draw to a conclusion in the next few days.

The Knicks had not formally offered the job to Brown as of Saturday, but the implied message was clear: The job is Brown's if he wants it. . . .

The Philadelphia 76ers and restricted free agent C Samuel Dalembert agreed to the terms of a six-year contract. . . .

Becky Hammon scored 13 points, including 11 in the final five minutes, to lead the visiting New York Liberty past the Minnesota Lynx, 59-47, for the team's third straight victory.

Nicole Powell tallied a career-high 25 points to help the host Sacramento Monarchs cruise past the Detroit Shock, 91-51.

* TRACK & FIELD: Olympic champion Shawn Crawford has withdrawn from the 200 meters at the world track and field championships because of a lingering foot injury, his agent said from Atlanta.

Crawford still plans to compete in the 100 and will be available for the 400-meter relay, agent Kimberly Trammell said.

Crawford's withdrawal clears the way for NCAA champion Wallace Spearmon to compete in the 200 at the worlds, scheduled for Aug. 6-14 in Helsinki. . . .

Olympic champion Osleidys Menendez of Cuba threw a season-best 224 feet 7 inches to win the women's javelin at the Helsinki Grand Prix. The meet's other events are scheduled for today.

* COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Westlake senior defensive back PhaTerrell Washington has orally committed to sign with Maryland in February.

Washington, an All-Met honorable mention, intercepted four passes and broke up nine others last season. He rushed for 758 yards and 11 touchdowns on 77 carries.

* ROWING: The Thompson Boat Club (Washington) won the women's all-points trophy and the combined all-points trophy at the USRowing National Championship Regatta at Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis.

-- From News Services

and Staff Reports