French Open, Paris May 27-June 9, 2002; 128 Draw (32 seeds); Surface – Clay
When I saw 19-year-old Albert Costa almost eliminating a red-hot Thomas Muster in the French Open ’95, I knew the Spaniard would win in Paris one day. He had to wait for that moment quite long though – seven years. No fluke during his 2002 triumph – he beat a double-defending champion Gustavo Kuerten and a champion of the following edition – Juan Carlos Ferrero, so two best clay-court players in the early 00s.
For future opponents of top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Sa offers some advice: Don’t listen to a word he says. Intense, dramatic and often his own loudest cheerleader, Hewitt isn’t exactly quiet on court. Many of his winning points are followed by fist pumps and yells of “Come on!” It was that way throughout his first-round match over Sa at the French Open on Monday, a 7-5, 6-4, 7-5 victory that lasted nearly 3 hours. “You can’t let him get into your head, all these things he does,” the 83rd-ranked Sa said. “If I hear him, it means he won the point. I feel better if I don’t listen.” On-court noise wasn’t the only distraction. Cloudy skies gave way to pelting rain and intervals of bright sunshine. Hewitt said the weather made it tough to concentrate on tennis and contributed to his slow start. “It was tough conditions out there,” the reigning U.S. Open champion said. “One minute I felt like I was getting burned, the next minute I was ready to come off because it was getting too heavy with the rain.” Hewitt wasn’t the only one feeling the effects of the weather. Two-time defending champion Gustavo Kuerten was leading Ivo Heuberger of Switzerland 7-5, 6-2, 2-1 when rain halted play across Roland Garros. When they returned, Kuerten didn’t waste any time winning the third set 6-2. For months, Pete Sampras put aside his ego to embrace change, willing to put up a scaffold around a legendary style that had churned out a record 13 majors, ready to open himself up to new ideas from a different voice. It wasn’t easy for a player who has clung to the familiar with prongs, who has hit with the same racket, has worn the same white shorts and has put on the same shoes throughout an amazing career. But this spring, Sampras let go of structure. He hired Jose Higueras as a clay-court guru and revamped his schedule in Europe. Anything to win the French Open. More than any year before, Sampras, at age 30, was desperate for at least a chance to complete a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros before his tennis life span expired. The redesign failed him today, and Sampras couldn’t take it. That’s why he defied his placid persona by slamming his racket in the dirt during the third set, by smacking a ball into the last row of center court in the fourth and by kicking at the net after he missed an easy overhead that could have changed everything in a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(3) loss to Andrea Gaudenzi of Italy. Once Sampras punched a volley long for his 93rd unforced error, he dropped his head as he met Gaudenzi at the net. Understanding the moment, Gaudenzi put his hand on his 12th-seeded opponent’s shoulder as the 1,500 soggy fans who remained through two rain delays chanted ”Sam-pras! Sam-pras!” in sympathetic tribute. After sitting beside the court for several minutes, staring at the damp clay beneath his chair, Sampras walked off the court and into the tunnel. Will he be back to try again? No one was sure. ”It’s a pretty empty feeling right now,” said Sampras, who has not advanced past the second round of the French Open since 1997. ”You do whatever you can, and you work hard and prepare. I’ve done everything I needed to do, you know?” Ahead by 5:4 and serving for the 4th set, Sampras mishandled the tension of a break point by shanking an overhead smash of a weak lob into the bottom of the net. ”I said: ‘We are back. I can still fight for this set,”’ Gaudenzi said. ”When I played the high lob, my mind was a little bit already in the fifth set.” Gaudenzi didn’t have to play a fifth. As 9 p.m. arrived, with hardly enough daylight to keep the match going, Gaudenzi took the tie breaker and the match, thanks, in part, to two unforced errors by Sampras. Andre Agassi and Marat Safin showed little mercy for their hosts here on Wednesday advancing to the second round of Roland Garros at the expense of French players. Fourth-seeded Agassi wasted no time dismissing French qualifier Eric Prodon 6-3, 6-3, 6-1, while Russia’s number two seed Safin came away the 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(7), 6-4 winner over Michael Llodra. “It’s a great atmosphere out there,” said Agassi as he bowed and blew kisses to the crowd after his 72-minute match. “Every year is one more opportunity. I know what to expect but now I’m getting older and every year is a stop closer to the final match, so it’s very special and you really appreciate it.” The fourth-seeded American, who took two weeks off after winning in Rome, will meet with Spaniard David Sanchez in the next round, as he bids for an eighth Grand Slam title and second in Paris. Former US Open champion Safin faces Olivier Rochus of Belgium who beat Hungary’s Attila Savolt 6-4, 7-6(0), 6-2. “I wasn’t serving full out in the first two sets because of my back. After each match I have to check it to make sure it’s okay,” said Safin who has been dogged by back problems over the past year. Wayne Arthurs hit 25 aces and rallied to beat the 13th-seeded Andy Roddick 4-6, 7-6(14), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a first-round match. Roddick, who made it to the final in Houston and the semifinals in Rome in the past month on clay, lost a lot of energy in the second set tie-break that he narrowly lost 16/14 (equaled a record for the longest tie-break at Roland Garros; Roddick wasted three set points). Roddick, 19, trailed 5:6 in the 4th set and, before serving, got a rubdown from the trainer on his left calf. Arthurs then broke Roddick’s serve to even the match. Arthurs, who reached the round of 16 at Roland Garros last year, broke Roddick again for a 3:1 lead in the final set and went on to win. “It’s tough because he has about 72 different serves he can hit, so you’re not really sure which one’s coming,” Roddick said of Arthurs. Richard Gasquet, a thte age 15 years 11 months, made his Grand Slam debut and unexpectedly won a set. Albert Costa beat him 3-6, 6-0, 6-4, 6-3.
Second round: (Reuters)
Two-time defending champion Gustavo Kuerten took a victory lap around the court, slapping hands with fans along the way after he rallied to beat Davide Sanguinetti 6-7(0), 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the second round Wednesday. Kuerten (saved 4 break points trailing 0:2 in the decider), still trying to get in top tennis shape after hip surgery earlier this year, summoned all his strength to win the 3-hour, 2-minute match – his 16th straight victory at Roland Garros. Last year as he was capturing his second straight title and third overall, he carved a heart in the clay to tell the fans of his feelings. ”Everybody loves him,” Sanguinetti said. ”He’s the King of the French Open.” Top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt was way behind before he got rolling. He rallied from one set and *5:0 down to beat qualifier Andrei Stoliarov of Russia 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-0, 7-5 and make the third round. Silly as it sounds, his comeback coincided with his decision to remove the thick headband that makes him look like a junior playing grown-up. Without it, he was soon covering court and pumping up like the Hewitt of old, screaming “Come on Rock!” as he got back to 5:5 in the 2nd set. Hewitt admits he has not played “pretty” tennis in two testing matches so far but, when things became desperate against Stoliarov, he returned to what he calls his “B game”: the fighting, scrapping, grinding version. That figures, as Hewitt had watched his new DVD copy of Rocky IV – “it was a Russian… I fast-forwarded it to the good parts” – in his hotel room before the match. He rallied also from a 3:5 deficit in the 4th set. Fourth-seeded Andre Agassi had a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 lead when David Sanchez of Spain retired in the second-round match. Between the second and third sets, a trainer taped Sanchez’s left foot. Late in the third, Sanchez was unable to run down shots from Agassi and after losing the set, he said he could not continue. “Three sets is three sets. I played three yesterday. It’s not the full test,” Agassi said. “I felt in a better position than I felt my opponent to be in. I felt like I was getting better as the match was going on.”Mark Philippoussis will prepare for the grasscourt season earlier than he would have liked, but a little happier than he had expected. Philippoussis’s French Open ended in deep gloom late on Wednesday night. Philippoussis pushed 1998 French champion Carlos Moya in a 6-2, 7-6(7), 7-6(9) second-round match that finished close to 10 p.m. The Australian held set points in both tiebreakers, but failed to convert any of the four, leaving Moya one round away from a much-anticipated rematch with Hewitt, and Philippoussis seeking an early check-in to the house he rents for a month each year in London. “This is a perfect match, for my peace of mind, just to know I can fight,” said Philippoussis, who is still building back up from a long absence after his third knee surgery. Second-seeded Marat Safin rallied for a 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 second-round win over Olivier Rochus at the French Open on Thursday. The 193-centimeter Safin, who’d been bothered by a pinched nerve in his back, made a diving stab volley at match point and was covered with clay as he went to the net to shake hands with the 165-centimeter Rochus. “Small guys have great touch. He’s a very talented guy. I’m big, I have power but not touch,” Safin said. “So it’s split up.” Safin’s fellow Russians, former champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov made an early farewell to Roland Garros when he lost on Wednesday, 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(4), to Argentine Mariano Zabaleta in the second round. No. 5 Kafelnikov, the 1996 winner, bowed out for his fourth second-round exit in the Parisian Grand Slam tournament. No. 11 Juan Carlos Ferrero didn’t let a sore ankle stop him from defeating Nicolas Coutelot 6-2, 5-7, 1-6, 6-2, 6-0. Also advancing Thursday were No. 3 Tommy Haas, who beat Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4, 6-4; No. 10, birthday-boy (24 years) Sebastien Grosjean, who beat American James Blake 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 (Grosjean led 5:1 in the 4th); Xavier Malisse, who beat No. 6 Tim Henman 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3; and unseeded Vincent Spadea, who beat Adrian Voinea 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6(4), 8-6. Voinea was serving at 5:2 (40/15) in the 4th set. In the 5th set Spadea was serving at 5:2, and 6:5 before finished the match on his fourth service attempt!
Third round: (Reuters)
Andre Agassi put another Spaniard away when he crushed Tommy Robredo 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in the French Open third round on Saturday. Second-seeded Marat Safin, animated as usual and talking to himself after nearly every point he lost, beat David Nalbandian 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4; and two-time semifinalist Juan Carlos Ferrero, showing no problems from a sore ankle, routed Guillermo Coria 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. Sebastien Grosjean made it three Frenchmen in the round of 16 for the first time since 1991 – joining Arnaud Di Pasquale and Paul-Henri Mathieu – by beating American Vince Spadea 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-4 – Spadea committed 22 double faults (!) in this encounter which lasted 3 hours 22 minutes. Mathieu will play Agassi in the fourth round. Spaniards are generally regarded as fearsome foes, especially on clay, but former world No. 1 Agassi does not seem impressed. The last two wins, both in Paris, were among the easiest for the 1999 Roland Garros champion. David Sanchez pulled out injured in the previous round trailing two-sets-to-one. And Robredo only lasted 94 minutes on center court against the three-time French Open finalist, potentially the best player on clay behind defending champion Gustavo Kuerten. “Today was a big match for me as Robredo was the toughest test yet, and he does a lot of things really well out there,” Agassi said. “I knew I had to play well and really execute my game.” Agassi’s domination was especially striking when he broke 25th-seeded Robredo in the fourth game of the second set with three splendid points. A powerless Robredo went to sit on the boarding lining the path to the locker room in despair. “When he plays like this, it is really difficult to do anything,” said Robredo, a former French Open junior finalist and a semifinalist in Hamburg this year. Agassi broke him after an especially long and spectacular rally, and there was no way back for Robredo. “After that point in particular, he realized it was going to be tough physically,” Agassi said. “You have to state your point that this is what you’re doing and you’re going to do it all day.”Lleyton Hewitt has been warning it could happen at any time. He has been predicting that his search may be over at any moment. Yet just when it appeared that the top seed’s best claycourt form had indeed been found, it was temporarily misplaced again. Hewitt eventually scratched out a 6-1, 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-1, defeat of world No. 33 Sjeng Schalken, taking 3 hours and 9 minutes to book himself into the fourth round. Yet the glimpses of his best were not as sustained as Hewitt would have liked, and a combination of double faults and unforced errors almost brought him undone. In the end, it was another struggle he could have done without. Having battled through rather shaky victories over Andre Sa and Andre Stoliarov in the opening rounds, Hewitt at least found some early encouragement yesterday. His first set was almost flawless, as was the tennis displayed in a run of seven consecutive games from 3:5 in the second set until 3:0 in the third – even if the stands were less than half-full, as the French fans preferred to find a TV screen to watch the nation’s World Cup clash with Senegal. Yet Schalken served for the second and claimed the third. Hewitt ran away with the fourth almost as comfortably as he had taken the first, but will need to improve both his second serve and his concentration if he is to last much longer in the tournament where he reached the quarter-finals last year. Hewitt looked particularly sharp early on. He pushed Schalken to a six-minute opening service game, and then broke him three times in a row without facing a break point until the start of the second set. It was then that the Australian lapsed slightly, helping Schalken to a 3:1 lead that became 5:3, but he snapped out his lapse when the set was on the line, breaking back to 15 with the help of three consecutive errors on the Schalken forehand. Little more than 24 hours before Juan Carlos Ferrero dragged his heavily strapped right ankle on to court seven for his second-round match at Roland Garros, the per-tournament favourite was hobbling with the help of crutches, aware that his French Open campaign was also in urgent need of aid. By the time Ferrero walked back into the locker room on Thursday, his sprained but anaethetised ankle had survived a two-sets-to-one deficit against Frenchman Coutelot, and the hopes of a leading title contender had gone some distance towards being restored. Ferrero could not walk on Wednesday night, because of damage done in the last minute of his morning practice session with Robredo. The 11th seed, who has lost to no one at Roland Garros other than Kuerten and is regarded as the Brazilian’s heir apparent, was almost resigned to withdrawing. He was treated, he said, with “so much injections”. Then he played on. “It’s improving and I think for the next match I have 48 hours, so I have enough time to improve,” Ferrero said before today’s third-round match against Coria. A match between Carlos Moya and Guillermo Canas was interrupted for an hour as officials evacuated Court 1 while they investigated a suspicious briefcase left under the seats in the upper section. They subsequently exploded the briefcase and let the fans back in. “It turned out to be a briefcase forgotten by an absent-minded spectator,” organizers said. No. 15 Canas’ 4-6, 7-6(1), 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-2 win over Moya in 4 hours 17 minutes moves him to the round of 16 against Hewitt. “I just had lost the second set and I don’t think this had any bearing on the outcome,” Moya said of the interruption. Added Canas: “It’s the first time I see this happen in tennis.” No. 7 Gustavo Kuerten beat Fernando Gonzalez 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 on Suzanne Lenglen court, Gonzalez led 3:0 in the tie-break and held a set point, facing a set point he committed a double fault. Also making the round of 16 was No. 3 Tommy Haas, who downed Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4. In one of the most amazing matches in the Roland Garros history,Alex Corretja took a 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 5-7, 8-6 win over Arnaud Clement in a match that took 4 hours and 13 minutes. Clement had four match points on Corretja’s serve in the 10th game of the final set, but couldn’t convert, even with a raucous crowd cheering him on. However, after an hour of play Clement was booed by his crowd while he was trailing 1-6 0:5 playing amazingly poor tennis. It motivated Clement to fight furiously, he was two games away to lose in straight sets, then in the 4th set he came back from a 3:5 down, and led through long sequence of the decider: *2:0, 4:2 (30/15) & 5:4 (40/0). Corretja was serving to win the match for the second time at 6:5, but failed. The match was concluded at 9:30 p.m.
Fourth round: (Sport Illustrated)
It turns out Gustavo Kuerten can be outslugged in the French Open. And, just as surprisingly, Lleyton Hewitt can be outhustled. Three-time champion Kuerten and the top-ranked Hewitt bowed out in fourth-round matches that finished 30 minutes apart Sunday at opposite ends of Roland Garros. Kuerten’s 17-match winning streak in the French Open dissolved in a matter-of-fact 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 loss to 20th-seeded Albert Costa, a Spaniard whose 11 career titles all have come on clay. “He didn’t let me play the way I wanted to,” said Kuerten, who took 2 1/2 months off after right hip surgery in February. “He really played a precise match.” Instead of a Hewitt-Kuerten showdown for a berth in the final four, Costa will play No. 15 Guillermo Canas of Argentina. Canas heads to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal after winning the final six games to oust U.S. Open champion Hewitt 6-7(1), 7-6(13), 6-4, 6-3 (4 hours, 13 minutes). The match started with temperatures in the 80s and finished more than four hours later with shadows covering half the court. The second set alone took 94 minutes, with Hewitt wasting five set points in the tie-break, including 6:4, and Canas finally ending it on his 10th (the Argentine already led 5:2, 40/0). In the marathon tiebreaker, Hewitt’s double fault made it 14:13, and Canas took advantage by snapping a crosscourt forehand winner. He then ran to the changeover chairs pumping both fists and yelling, celebrating as though he had won match right there. In a way, he did. Canas had shown Hewitt – the ultimate on-court battler – that he was prepared to smack right back every apparent point-ender, and run, run, run. “There’s times where you think he’s looking a bit tired, but then he bounces back pretty well,” said Hewitt, who beat Canas in five sets played over two days at the same stage of last year’s French Open. “Physically, he’s very strong.” Hewitt opened the fourth set by taking three straight games, but then came an avalanche of mistakes. Take out that last set, though, and it’s clear how close the magnificent match was: through three sets, Canas won 138 points, Hewitt 136. When Hewitt’s 105th unforced error slapped the net on Canas’ third match point, the Argentine slid on his back with arms aloft, leaving clay in his hair. “All my life I’ve played like this,” said Canas, who never let up despite a blister on his left foot. “I fight every point.” So, generally, does Kuerten, which is part of why he and the French fans adore each other. He drew a heart in the clay after two match wins in 2001, and did a Ripkenesque victory lap slapping spectators’ hands after his second-round match Wednesday. While the victorious Costa was applauded politely as he walked off Center Court, the crowd of about 15,000 gave Kuerten a rowdy, 30-second salute: “Gu-ga!” Clap-clap-clap. “Gu-ga!” Clap-clap-clap. Another quarterfinal, two-time runner-up Alex Corretja will face No. 22 Andrei Pavel. Corretja beat Mariano Zabaleta 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, and Pavel upset No. 3 Tommy Haas 6-1, 7-6(9), 6-4. The Romanian advanced to his only major quarterfinal (not impressive for a guy who was able to win Masters tournament – Canadian Open ’01) – in the tie-break he saved two set points. Former champion Andre Agassi mounted a thrilling fightback to set up a quarter-final showdown with Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero in the French Open today, as Russian second seed Marat Safin booked his spot against France’s Sebastien Grosjean. It was not a good day for French wildcards as 32-year-old Agassi came from two sets and a service break down to beat Paul-Henri Mathieu, ranked at 103 in the world, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in 3 hours 2 minutes. Former US Open champion Safin then came on court to send the 175th-ranked Arnaud di Pasquale home 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in 2 hours 36 minutes serving for the match with an ace. Both Mathieu and Di Pasquale had been bidding to follow in the footsteps of Henri Leconte, the last French wildcard to advance beyond the round of 16. Agassi, chasing his eighth grand slam crown, now faces Ferrero, the 11th seed, who saw off the challenge of Argentina’s Gaston Gaudio, seeded 31. Ferrero came away 6-7(1), 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-4 winner in 3 hours 15 minutes. Ferrero squandered two set points in the 3rd set, in the 5th he rallied from a *1:4 deficit.“I suffered out there,” admitted 22-year-old Ferrero. “I don’t feel 100 percent but I’m playing without pain so I think it’s improving. I saw Agassi had won and I wanted to play him in the next round. It’s going to be the first head-to-head with Andre and I’m going to enjoy the match.” Agassi’s comeback echoed his fightback in 1999 when he recovered from two sets down in the final to beat Andrei Medvedev and become only the fifth man in history to win all four Grand Slam titles. But he had to dig deep – in the final set, he had been *1:3, 30/40 down before he recovered to march into his eighth quarter-final here (earlier, Mathieu after taking first two sets led 2:0 in the 3rd). Agassi said that if he was to lose, he was determined to go down fighting. “When you’re two sets down you tell yourself to hang in there because it can’t get worse, it can only get better,” he said. “I made a few good shots which surprised him and they got me back in. It was very much up and down, so it’s nice to get through. I got aggressive and took my chances.” Agassi, the oldest man in the competition, said he took advantage of Mathieu going off the boil in the middle stages of the match. Safin, 22, struggled in the first set but found his feet on the red clay against Di Pasquale who was making his comeback from knee surgery. “I was a little scared at the beginning,” said Safin, who admitted to feeling nervous. “He started to play very well, to push forward and play very fast, so I lost my concentration. I was a little nervous, but I think my served saved my game today.” Safin next meets Grosjean, the 10th seed, who eased past Belgian Xavier Malisse 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 and is bidding to reach the semi-finals for the second straight year.
Quarterfinals: Jocelyn Gecker
It has taken Albert Costa 25 Grand Slam tournaments to reach a semifinal. The Spaniard finally did it Tuesday by accomplishing something that opponents in the previous two rounds at the French Open found impossible: he got the indefatigable Guillermo Canas off the court in less than 4 hours. It took 3:54, to be exact, for the 20th-seeded Costa to wrap up the 7-5, 3-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-0 quarterfinal victory. Costa won the last 10 games of the match (Canas led *4:2, 30/15 in the 4th set). Costa’s semifinal opponent will be fellow Spaniard Alex Corretja, twice a French Open runner-up, who ousted No. 22 Andrei Pavel. Their quarterfinal was suspended by rain with Corretja leading 7-6(5), 7-5, 4:5 on Tuesday. It wasn’t possible to continue it on Wednesday because of rain, Pavel despite playing one of the most important matches of his life, decided to go to Germany where his wife the same day gave birth of their second child. Pavel came back to Paris on Thursdays’ morning (5 a.m.), slept only three hours on a couch in the players’ lounge and entered the court to lose quickly three games to Corretja, and the match! The 15th-seeded Canas, a remarkably resilient Argentine, entered Tuesday having played his two previous matches in more than 4 hours – including a stunning upset of top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round. ”I think he was a little tired,” said Costa, who staged an upset of his own in the fourth round, eliminating two-time defending champion Gustavo Kuerten in straight sets. ”This is a new sensation, to be in a Grand Slam semifinal,” Costa said. ”I’m feeling very, very good. Very happy.’‘ It looked as if this French Open would end, as it has eight times before, without good news for Costa – a clay-court specialist who has long had the shots but never the nerves to advance in the majors. His best previous showing in Paris was the quarterfinals, in 1995 and 2000. He’s also been to the quarters in the Australian Open (’97), while his top U.S. Open effort was making the fourth round last year. Costa’s match against Canas was a battle of marathon baseline points. ”All the points were unbelievable rallies,” Costa said. ”He was fighting a lot, running, running, running. I knew that his level had to go down. He couldn’t play at that level throughout.” Down a set and 2:4 in the 4th, Costa reset the pace, drawing Canas to the net and sending him back again ‘‘I said to myself, ‘Come on, if you don’t do it now, you’re going to lose,”’ Costa said. After making 72 errors in the first three sets, Costa trimmed it to 18 in the final two. At the end of the fourth set, Costa let loose a forehand winner and announced it with a mighty roar well before the ball landed in. When the Argentine sent his last forehand wide, Costa knelt to the ground and blew a kiss to the sky. ”If you endure long enough,” Costa said, ”you’ll be able to get there in the end.”Marat Safin completed a dismal day for French sport as he knocked home tenth seed Sebastien Grosjean out of the quarter-finals of the French Open 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. The second seed’s clinical win in 1 hour, 43 minutes came just a few hours after defending champions France were held to a 0-0 draw by Uruguay at the World Cup, another disappointment for the French after losing to Senegal last Friday. Grosjean’s exit in front of a sellout crowd of 15,000 on a dry day at Roland Garros leaves Safin and three clay-courting Spaniards to contest the semi-finals Friday. Fourth seed Andre Agassi‘s fight-back failed to hold up as the fourth seed crashed out in a held-over math to Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3. Agassi had his troubles against Ferrero, a decade younger at age 22, in a match of which a mere 36 minutes was played during a frustrating and rainy Wednesday. The last time three Spaniards reached this stage was four years ago through Corretja, Felix Mantilla and eventual winner Carlos Moya. Safin took advantage of an injured Grosjean, who came in with a leg muscle injury which required on-court treatment. The Russian imposed himself almost at will as the French challenge faded. Grosjean put a forehand out to lose. Agassi let three break point chances against Ferrero go in the 11th game of the 3rd set after winning the second to square the rain-interrupted match from Wednesday. The veteran then lost serve to lose the set and never threatened afterwards, producing 87 unforced errors to 71 for the young Spaniard. Agassi fell to 1:5 in the fourth, squeezing in a token break before losing. Agassi’s loss in 2 hours, 45 minutes ended a ten-match winning streak on clay dating to his title in Rome last month.
Juan Carlos Ferrero blocked out Marat Safin‘s antics, uncorking shot after shot until he’d carved out a spot in the French Open final. Albert Costa paid a lot more attention to Alex Corretja‘s talking, tics and tumbles. Corretja, after all, was far more than merely another semifinal opponent – he’ll be the best man at Costa’s wedding in a week. The 11th-seeded Ferrero and No. 20 Costa each advanced Friday to his first Grand Slam tournament final, putting a pair of Spaniards in the championship match at Roland Garros for the third time since 1994. “It’s a party, a Spanish party, in the final,” Ferrero said. “So, for sure, we are going to enjoy the match.” He finally advanced past the French Open semifinals, where he lost to eventual champion Gustavo Kuerten in 2000 and 2001, by staying composed against the always-animated Safin en route to a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory. Costa, never beyond the quarterfinals in 25 previous majors, beat his pal, Corretja, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. They chatted, exchanged smiles, and both ran up to the net to check on the other after final-set falls. Against Ferrero, when Safin wasn’t talking to his racket, he was thinking about throwing it. At least a dozen times, the 2000 U.S. Open champion cocked his arm, began a spiking motion, then held back. Late in the third set, Safin did let go, throwing the racket three times – once, 15 feet in the air underhanded, accompanied by a roar and drawing jeers from the crowd. “I want to think I played great and won the match because of that,” Ferrero said, “not because he lost his mind.” Indeed, Ferrero followed up his quarterfinal ouster of 1999 champion Andre Agassi by doing what he does so well: keeping the ball in play until an opening arises to flash a forehand winner. He made just 44 unforced errors to Safin’s 78. Another mistake by Safin didn’t make the boxscore: after his service winner closed a game to get him within 5:4 in the 3rd set, the Russian collected two balls and stepped to the baseline, ready to unleash another serve. When he looked up, he saw Ferrero was where he should have been: at the changeover seats. “I thought it was at 30-all,” Safin said, smiling. “I was gone. I was too concentrated on the match.” It might have been tough for Costa and 1998 and 2001 runner-up Corretja to stay focused, given how close they are. In the 2nd game of the 4th set, the 18th-seeded Corretja slipped going to his right for a volley and fell, scraping his shoulder, arm and hand on the court, and cutting a knuckle on his right hand. Costa walked to the net, put his hands on it, and looked on with concern until Corretja stood. Then, on the match’s last point, Costa got his feet tangled as he moved to his right in pursuit of a Corretja ground-stroke. Costa stumbled, dropped his racket, and looked up to see the ball drop wide. He fell on his back, arms spread apart, as the ball bounced then hit him. “Oh, I felt a little bit stupid,” Costa said. “But then I was completely happy.” When they met at the net, a clay-splattered Costa embraced Corretja and patted him on the back with a closed fist. As they went to grab their bags, Corretja tugged at Costa’s shirt playfully, as if to say, “Hey, nice match. Now let’s get a beer.” They practice together, both have homes in Barcelona and a nearby suburb, and they teamed to win a doubles bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics. “You know that you’re playing against a friend. You can’t really forget,” Costa said after improving to 6-7 against Corretja. “We’re very much used to playing against the other. This is why we’re able to take it in stride.” Costa – who eliminated Kuerten in the round of 16 – dictated points, looking for opportunities to move to the net and shorten rallies. Corretja appeared content to stay several feet behind the baseline and slug away. Safin, meanwhile, is left to ponder another oh-so-close showing in a major. He’s the only player to reach the final four at each of the past three Grand Slam events, but he lost to Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open semifinals and to Thomas Johansson in the Australian Open final. Getting “from this point to being a winner in a Grand Slam – it’s like from here to the moon,” he said. “You have to be tough, you have to play great, you have to be confident on the court.”
Albert Costa captured his first career Grand Slam title Sunday by winning the French Open with a 6-1, 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 victory over fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero. The 20th seed who had never advanced past the quarterfinals in a major before, Costa needed to get past some of the top clay-court players in the world in order to become the third Spanish winner at Roland Garros in the past decade. In addition to his triumph over Ferrero, a two-time French Open semifinalist, Costa knocked out three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten in the fourth round, rallied from a two-sets-to-one deficit to defeat Guillermo Canas in the quarterfinals and posted a four-set triumph over Alex Corretja, a two-time runner-up. The 26-year-old Costa won his first title since his triumph at Kitzbuhel in July, 1999. All 12 of his titles have come on clay, putting him second among active players behind Kuerten’s 13. Costa wrapped up his ninth straight win against a countryman in 2 hours, 30 minutes. After his foe double faulted on the second of two match points, he threw his hands up and fell to the court on his back in jubilation. He embraced Ferrero at the net before joining fiancée Cristina Ventura, 14-month-old twin daughters Claudia and Alma and his parents in the stands. Ferrero will get married Friday. “It is more difficult to speak than to play. I am delighted to have won this trophy,” Costa said after he received the winner’s trophy from 1977 champion Guillermo Vilas. “I would have never dared dreaming about winning that Grand Slam one day.” With Sunday’s triumph, Costa finally stepped out of the shadow of former world No. 1 and 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya, Corretja and the fast-rising Ferrero. “Today, I just played great, great tennis,” Costa said. “I don’t know what happened, but I was playing very good. I was trying, trying, fighting every day. I was preparing to win this tournament. But I didn’t believe in myself before. These two weeks, I said to myself, ‘Don’t have bad thoughts and let’s try to win the tournament.’ That’s what I did and I won. The most difficult thing is to believe you can win, and now I am believing.” The third all-Spanish Grand Slam final in history started in inclement weather, and rain halted the match for 25 minutes with the 1st set tied at 1:1 and Costa serving with a 30-love lead. Ferrero’s shoddy play allowed Costa to go on an 11-game run, taking the first two sets in 49 minutes. Ferrero looked little like the man who defeated former champion Andre Agassi and second seed Marat Safin in the previous two rounds. One of the pre-tournament favorites, the seventh-seeded Ferrero had 28 unforced through the first two sets, with only five winners – just one in the opening set. “I was nothing special in the first two sets. I made a lot of mistakes because I had problems with my body,” said Ferrero, who complained of a right ankle sprain sustained before his second-round match and suffered a tear in his stomach muscle in the semifinals against Safin. “I felt pain in my legs and my abdomen, but I tried to play good throughout the final. But I couldn’t play in the first two sets.” The 22-year-old Spaniard finally won a game to start the third set. He hit an ace on game point and raised his arms in mock triumph. The two foes traded breaks afterward and stayed on serve until the 10th game, when Costa hit a forehand drop shot short. Costa broke serve in the 3rd game of the 4th set when a forehand by Ferrero hit the top of the net and fell back. After holding his own serve, Costa could have added to his lead in the 5th game, but Ferrero saved three break points and snatched serve in the next game as Costa looked tight for the first time during the match. But Costa shook off the nerves that have plagued him in big moments during his career and converted double-break point with a forehand pass down the line. After holding his serve at love, Costa gained his first championship point with a cross-court forehand drop volley but hit a forehand long. Ferrero followed with an ace but hit a forehand long and another wide to set up a second match point. “Today I did the best match of my life. I played unbelievable tennis and I was feeling unbelievable on the court,” said Costa, who was playing in his ninth French Open and 26th career major. “I was a little surprised. I thought I was going to be nervous in the final, but I was feeling unbelievable.” With both men junior runner-ups, Costa became the first former boys’ finalist to win the men’s crown since Thomas Muster in 1985 – 10 years after finishing second to Jaimie Yzaga in the boys’ competition. Costa won’t win another title, four years later he will finish his career losing the last professional match to… Ferrero (Barcelona, third round, 1-6, 7-5, 5-7). Stats of the final
French Open, Paris May 26, 2003; 128 Draw (32 seeded); Surface – Clay
Improbable finalists featured twenty years of Roland Garros: after Wilander, Pernfors, Chang, Berasategui and Kuerten, Martin Verkerk was the man who stunned everyone during the fortnight. Similarly to Pernfors and Berasategui, the long-necked, showman-prone Dutchman couldn’t do anything in the final though, where he met Juan Carlos Ferrero – player who was preparing himself for that triumph four straight editions. Defending champion Albert Costa enrolled his name to record books spending on court in first five rounds more time (18 hours 32 minutes) than anyone before and after.
No victories on European clay this year? That’s OK. One tournament match in a month? Fine. Oldest man in the draw? Ho hum. He concentrates on fitness, then gets to town and goes to work, adjusting to the vagaries of the surface, balls and weather. On Monday, Andre Agassi began constructing what he hopes will become his ninth major title, beating Karol Beck of Slovakia 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 at the French Open. “I could come in here with more clay matches and sort of be in the grind and find myself plateauing off,” the No. 2-seeded Agassi said. “I’d rather come in and sort of struggle to find a bit of a groove, but know that once I do, I’m ready to shift the gear and have some bigger upside later in the tournament.” Roger Federer, Paradorn Srichaphan and Alex Corretja – all were upset on the first day. The No. 5-seeded Federer lost in the opening round for the second year in a row, this time to Luis Horna 7-6(6), 6-2, 7-6(3). Srichaphan, seeded 10th, was eliminated by Dominik Hrbaty 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 7-5. Corretja, a two-time runner-up at Roland Garros, lost to Galo Blanco 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5. “I’m here because I believe I can win,” Agassi said. “I feel a lot younger on the court than I do off the court. When I’m out there on the court, I feel good. When I’m off the court, and I’m carrying around my little baby, and I’m pulling all the hair out of my ear, I feel old.” Agassi entered the French Open 11 times before winning it. Federer is now 0-for-5 at Roland Garros and has yet to reach a Grand Slam semifinal. The Swiss player has lost in the first round at three of the past five major events. Monday’s defeat was especially surprising because he leads the men’s tour this year with 38 match victories. “It’s a big disappointment,” Federer said. “Very sad to leave so early. I should have played better.”Federer wasted a set point in the first tie-break, he led 6:5* (30/15) in the 3rd set; it was his tournament. Defending French Open champion Albert Costa  needed the biggest comeback of his long career to avoid a first-round loss Tuesday. The Spaniard was one game from elimination in straight sets, then rallied to beat weary Argentine  Sergio Roitman 6-7(3), 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 (also in the first round, after almost identical scoreline Mark Philippoussis beat Alex Kim). Roitman lost in qualifying and made the 128-man draw only because of a withdrawal by another player. The match was just the fourth of his career, compared with 563 for Costa. ”I had never heard of him,” Costa said. “I talked to the other guys from Argentina, and they said on a good day he’s dangerous. That’s what I felt on the court.” Roitman blamed his failure to close out the match on nerves, rather than lack of fitness. He said the defeat left him with mixed emotions. “It’s a weird sensation,” he said. “It hurts so much that I lost. I couldn’t believe it, because I was feeling the match so well. So I’m really sad about that. But I’m happy because I’m playing good.” Roitman has a stiff service motion, but his swooping swings from the forehand side kept Costa on the defensive in the early going. The grunting, fist-pumping Argentine munched on a banana during changeovers as though he was having a picnic. “He was hitting as hard as he could and getting a lot of balls inside the court,” Costa said. ”He was playing very good.”The 24-year-old Roitman already led 4:1* in the 3rd set and was four points from eliminating the defending champion at 5:4. Michael Chang  cried at the French Open for the second and last time. Back in 1989, they were tears of joy after he won the tournament. On Tuesday, a lifetime later, they were tears of sadness after he hit his final shot here. Chang’s farewell to Roland Garros ended with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-1 loss to Fabrice Santoro  in the same spot that the American claimed his lone major title. “It’s bittersweet,” said Chang, who’ll retire after the U. S. Open. “It’s disappointing to lose in the first round. But it feels good to be able to play my last match on center court.”Andy Roddick was considered capable of contending. He reached his first major semifinal at the Australian Open, and he won a clay-court tournament in Austria last weekend. Instead, he heads home after the first round, just like last year, beaten by Sargis Sargsian 6-7(3), 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. “It’s weird going from feeling like you’re playing pretty well,” Roddick said, “to not really knowing what you’re doing out there.” He still has time to learn; this was only his 10th Grand Slam event. No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero, who lost to Costa in the 2002 final, advanced in straight sets, while No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten, each dropped a set. Tim Henman, the four-time Wimbledon semifinalist, also won and plays Todd Martin next. Hewitt wasted four match points before defeating Brian Vahaly of the United States 6-4, 6-1, 6-7(6), 6-3. Vahaly remembers watching Chang’s run to the French Open title. “He had incredible intensity,” said Vahaly, 10 at the time. “Americans didn’t play well here then, and it was inspiring to see him.” Chang, 31, no longer has the game that carried him to that championship and three other Grand Slam finals that he lost, including at the 1995 French Open. “I love getting out there and competing,” said Chang, honored in a post-match ceremony. “I just don’t feel that I’m able to sustain it in the way that I have.” He’s won one ATP Tour match all year (in four tournaments), and he needed a wild-card invitation to get into his 16 th straight French Open. “I have so many images in my head from his victory in 1989. It seems so odd to me that he’s leaving,” said Santoro, who ended a seven-match losing streak. Former No. 1, 28-year-old Marcelo Rios retired at 1-6, 0-1 against Mario Ancic and never played another main level tournament.
Second round: Steve Wine
Nine U.S. women reached the third round, but just two of 13 American men did: Andre Agassi and Vince Spadea, who’s never won a tournament. Two U.S. men exited, with No. 24 James Blake eliminated by Ivan Ljubicic in a match suspended the night before because of darkness. Todd Martin lost to No. 25 Tim Henman. There’s a trend, it seems. At last year’s Wimbledon, there were no U.S. men in the fourth round for the first time in 80 years. “We’ve got a young batch of players that are starting to run into a bit of a speed bump,” said Martin, who’s 32. “This period of time is going to be a big challenge for our younger players.” Blake pointed out that part of the problem at Roland Garros is the red clay, a surface that isn’t common in the United States. “We don’t grow up on the stuff. The French, the Spanish, the South Americans play on it from very early on,” he said. “The guys from California – they don’t even know what a clay court looks like.” Nearly a third of Thursday’s winners were Spanish: defending champion Albert Costa, 2002 runner-up Juan Carlos Ferrero, Felix Mantilla, Tommy Robredo and Fernando Vicente. Three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten, a Brazilian, eliminated Hicham Arazi 6-1, 6-0, 6-1. But top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt  had another long day, needing more than 3 hours to get past  Nikolay Davydenko 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) in a match consisted of 20 breaks of serve, then conceding, “I’m not one of the big favorites.”Hewitt before the tie-break in which was 1:4 down, had wasted three match points. He plays Robredo next and would love to see 112 unforced errors, Davydenko’s total. Yevgeny Kafelnikov  says his latest loss might have been his last in the French Open. But we’ve heard that before. Fading at the end of a 4-hour, five-set marathon, the 1996 champion lost to Brazil’s  Flavio Saretta 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 6-7(0), 6-4 on Wednesday. Kafelnikov saved a match point in the 4th set, but it didn’t distract Saretta at all. The Brazilian was enjoying his first Centre Court match at majors so much, that celebrated winning a first point of the 5th game in the decider like winning the entire match!“It is a disappointment,” Kafelnikov said. “The fact is that I might not be back again next year, simple as that.” Now 29, Kafelnikov talked of retirement last year because of a varicose vein in his left leg. He put on weight and fell to No. 27 on the ATP Tour, his lowest ranking since 1993. After surgery, Kafelnikov decided to play another year. He’s 21-15, with early exits in seven tournaments, including both Grand Slam events. He has played 896 matches, and it shows. So will he return to Roland Garros? “I have no desire to lose first, second rounds. It’s not me,” he said. “I belong with the top.” In a sign that the end really could be near, the 17th-seeded Kafelnikov uncharacteristically ran out of gas against Saretta. The loss dropped the Russian to 20-10 in five-set matches. “You look at me four years ago and I was unbeatable in five sets, but I’ve lost the last two,” he said. “It just shows that at the beginning of the fifth set, I was ready to collapse. It’s not a nice feeling when in the back of the head you want to finish the match as quick as possible.” Kafelnikov prides himself as a student of the game, but he described the 22-year-old Saretta as “a mystery man.” “This is the match I wanted to avoid,” Kafelnikov said. “I knew nothing about him and this got me out of my comfort zone.” Kafelnikov followed fifth-seeded Roger Federer to the sideline. “A lot of good guys are losing in the early stage, because tennis is so competitive,” Kafelnikov said. Like Goran Ivanisevic, a compatriot and longtime practice partner, 19-year-old Mario Ancic  is a tall, lanky native of Split, Croatia, who speaks in a baritone and swings with abandon, which makes him a dangerous opponent. Just ask Andre Agassi . Ancic won the first two sets and was twice up a service break in the third before he wavered only slightly. Ever the opportunist, Agassi seized the opening and rallied to win 5-7, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 in the second round of the French Open. ‘‘You fell down just little bit, and then he take over and everything changes so fast,” said Ancic, his charming fractured English a dead ringer for Ivanisevic’s. ”Every small chance, it’s like whole planet. It’s such a big thing.” The 3-hour, 13-minute drama thrilled the crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen and served as a tribute to Agassi’s remarkable fitness at age 33. Five times he has won after losing the first two sets, including against Andrei Medvedev in the 1999 French Open final. ”He just earned it. It wasn’t that I gave it,” Ancic said. ”That’s why he won so many Grand Slams.” The match also underscored the potential of Ancic, who reached the fourth round in the Australian Open in January, beat Federer at Wimbledon last summer and has been touted as an emerging star. In his appearance, mannerisms and shot-making, Ancic draws comparisons to Ivanisevic, whose droll wit and high-wire tennis, especially at Wimbledon, made him one of the most popular players on the men’s tour. Wednesday’s match left no doubt that Ancic possesses the talent to justify the comparisons. ”He has so much eagerness,” Agassi said. ”He wants every point, no matter what the score. That’s a good thing for his future.” One frantic exchange sent the 6-foot-4 Ancic sprawling not once, but twice. He hit a lunging volley and rolled in the dirt, rose, then dove again but failed to intercept an Agassi winner. Ancic slowly stood to cheers, his backside caked with clay that was still there when the match ended. Agassi ‘s problem at the finish wasn’t conditioning, but nerves. Serving for the match at 5:3, he double-faulted three times, including once on match point and again on break point. Ancic saved four match points in all before dumping his final shot into the net. That made it 148 points for Agassi, 147 for Ancic. ”You certainly feel relieved that you sort of have another life now,” Agassi said of his great escape. ”I put the wins behind me a lot easier than the losses.” The victory was the 763rd for Agassi, putting him one ahead of Pete Sampras in sixth place among Open Era leaders. For Ancic, who played only his ninth Grand Slam match, the latest one was difficult to rank. He ran his hand through his air, contemplated the matter and then smiled. ”Put as one of my great matches until now,” he said. ”The crowd was really unbelievable. I enjoy. Everything was perfect – except I lost.” By improving to 9-0 this year in Grand Slam events, Agassi advanced to the third round against 26th-seeded Xavier Malisse. The Belgian survived his own five-setter, beating Stefan Koubek 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 8-6 (175 points won each of them). The most captivating story of the first week has been Nicolas Coutelot, who plays fellow Frenchman Arnaud Clement in the third round Saturday. Coutelot beat Davide Sanguinetti in the opening round, then outlasted 2002 Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1. Not bad for a player ranked 208th who arrived at Roland Garros without a victory at the tour level this year. “I’m not afraid of anyone,” Coutelot said. “It would be incredible if I got all the way to the end. If I said I can win the French Open, well, people think I’m mad. If you like, I’m mad.”Coutelot managed to get 9 games from Clement… There were two incredible battles on smaller arenas. Luis Horna led two-sets-to-one against Martin Verkerk and 5:2* (40/0) in the 4th set. Verkerk came to terms with loss and saved one of three match points serving a second-serve ace above 200 kmh, and somehow won the match 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. Jarkko Nieminen produced one of the most remarkable comebacks of the Grand Slam history in the Open era. He was totally outplayed through two sets and a half, but erased a break point at 1:4 down in the 3rd set to beat Julien Varlet 1-6, 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-4 (the Frenchman squandered a match point serving at 5:3). Defending champion Albert Costa was extended to five sets for the second straight round. Costa, seeded ninth, outlasted Radek Stepanek 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in 3 hours, 38 minutes.
Third round: Howard Fendrich
More than 4 1/2 hours into his third five-set victory at the French Open, Albert Costa leaned over the net, head down, tongue hanging. The defending champion appeared to be peering into a well, searching for drops of energy. At the other end of Roland Garros, top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt screamed at himself, trying to get back into a groove as a big lead slipped away in his own marathon. There’s a special skill to grinding out long matches on clay, one that Costa suddenly has acquired, Hewitt still lacks. A week ago, Costa’s 10-year record didn’t include a singl”You look at me four years ago and I was unbeatable in five sets, but I’ve lost the last two,”e comeback from a two-set deficit. Now he’s done it twice: in the first round and against unseeded Nicolas Lapentti in the third, winning 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 Saturday. Hewitt , meanwhile, dropped the last six games to No. 28 Tommy Robredo 4-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. “If I have to keep playing matches like this, I don’t know how far I can go,” Costa said. “I’m going to have to win one of these matches quickly.” A couple of his sets against Lapentti lasted longer than entire matches played Saturday by Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters and Jennifer Capriati, all past finalists. Each dropped only three games. Costa gets Sunday off, and he needs it. He’s been on court nearly 12 hours already, playing 148 games. His next foe – No. 32 Arnaud Clement, the last Frenchman in the field – waded through merely 81 and hasn’t lost a set. Costa-Lapentti was packed with as much drama as a miniseries and was just as long. They hugged at the net when it ended; later, they accused each other of gamesmanship. With the temperature around 80 (26 Celsius), both sought treatment from trainers and both took bathroom breaks. After one, Lapentti returned to the court looking like he had taken a trip to the market, toting a can of soda, a bottle of water and a banana. Costa got a neck rub in the second set, while Lapentti was hit by leg cramps and got his thighs massaged several times. By the fifth set, Lapentti moved as though walking barefoot on coals. So he camped out at the baseline, relying on heavily spun drop shots. “I was beginning to think, ‘Am I going to play for more than 4 1/2 hours and lose to a guy who can’t even run?'” Costa said. He bristled at Lapentti’s delay tactics, which included stretching or slowly going over to grab water between points, and yelled at the chair umpire to curtail them. Lapentti, ranked 58th, was warned for delay of game at 2:2 in the final set. When he sat down, he was told he couldn’t ask for a timeout and would have to quit. “I said, ‘No, no, no. I want to keep playing.’ I just tried to hang in there, but it was too tough,” said Lapentti, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist in 2002. “I didn’t like the way he was trying to push the umpire to make me play quicker. I just don’t think that’s very nice from him, because he knew I was in pain.” Before the pain, Lapentti produced the shot of the tournament. Chasing a lob with his back to the net, he flicked his racket to hit the ball between his legs, producing a lob that floated over Costa and fell in. Lapentti actually won more points, 162 to 161. The back of Costa’s white shirt was freckled with specks of red clay by the end of what he called “a tremendous match.” “I never play a match like this. At the end, I couldn’t move,” he said. “It’s a very special match, because I was fighting all the time and playing and trying and trying and trying.”Lapentti had a break point leading 3:1 in the 3rd set before cramps began to bother him. Hewitt is widely regarded as one of the tour’s grittiest players, a quality that helped him win the U.S. Open in 2001, and Wimbledon in 2002. Until Saturday, he never had relinquished a two-set edge – and Robredo never had overcome one. But Hewitt admits he’s not at his best on clay, and he’s only once been a French Open quarter-finalist. “I just took the foot off the pedal a little bit,” he said. “I’ll look back on it, and I won’t be that disappointed.” During his news conference, Robredo asked: “Did Costa win? He was losing when I started my match.” In men’s play, No. 29 Vince Spadea lost to Martin Verkerk 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. That left just one American in the draw – eight-time Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi. Wayne Ferreira, playing in his 50th Grand Slam tournament, left on a stretcher. Trailing Rainer Schuettler in the fourth set (3-6, 6-1, 6-7, 3-2), Ferreira hurt his groin chasing a forehand and was forced to quit. Ferreira slipped, did the splits and fell on his back in pain. Schuettler grabbed ice from a container behind the changeover chairs and rushed it to Ferreira. After being treated by a trainer, the South African was carried off the court, waving to applauding fans. Schuettler, runner-up at the Australian Open in January, was 10-1 in tie-breaks in 2003 after that encounter. No. 23-seeded Younes El Aynaoui lost to Mariano Zabaleta 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2). No. 7 Guillermo Coria, at 21 the youngest player remaining in the men’s draw, beat qualifier Attila Savolt 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. Australian Open champion Agassi advanced with a 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory over Xavier Malisse, a Wimbledon semifinalist last year. Agassi called it “a huge step forward” from the second round, when he needed five sets to oust teenager Mario Ancic. “I was controlling the ball a lot better,” Agassi said. “When it left my racket, the shot was actually going where I told it to.” At 33, he’s the tournament’s oldest entrant. And just like a year ago, he’s the only U.S. man in the round of 16. No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero and No. 20 Felix Mantilla also won, giving Spain five men in the fourth round. Ferrero beat No. 25 Tim Henman 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, and Mantilla defeated compatriot Fernando Vicente 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-3. Three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten led Gaston Gaudio 7-6 (1), 7-5, 3-3 when their match was suspended until Sunday because of darkness. On the following day they played one-and-half-sets at the highest clay-court level, Gaudio started with a ‘4:2’ which gave him the 3rd set, Kuerten won 6-3 the 4th, saving a break point in the final game with a half-volley attacking the net with 2nd serve.
Fourth round: Steve Wine
Juan Carlos Ferrero has beaten Spanish compatriot Felix Mantilla every time, and their fourth-round match Monday at the French Open was the most lopsided yet. Ferrero, the runner-up at Roland Garros last year, improved to 7-0 against Mantilla by winning 6-2, 6-1, 6-1. The No. 3-seeded Ferrero will next play No. 19 Fernando Gonzalez, who beat No. 30 Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. The Ferrero-Gonzalez quarterfinal will be a rematch of the 1998 boys final at Roland Garros, which Gonzalez won (4-6 6-4 6-3). The Chilean has also won their two meetings as pros, neither on clay. After a week of sunny, warm weather, play was delayed 30 minutes by rain at the start. When the courts dried, Ferrero and Gonzalez were ready. Ferrero hit 52 winners to 13 for Mantilla and broke serve eight times. When the 20th-seeded Mantilla won a game after falling behind 5:0 in the third set, he raised his arms in mock jubilation. Ferrero then served out the victory at love. In four appearances at Roland Garros, the speedy Spaniard has never lost before the semifinals. He was beaten in last year’s final by countryman Albert Costa. Gonzalez, playing on center court, hit 40 winners and took advantage of 49 errors by Nieminen. Their match-up was the first in a Grand Slam event between a Chilean and Finn. Three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten was undone by drop shots and lost to crafty Tommy Robredo 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the fourth round Monday. Robredo won key points by floating forehand drop shots just over the net, using the tactic four times in the final game alone, including on the last point. The No. 28-seeded Robredo also eliminated No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in the third round. His latest upset gives Spain four men in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since the Open era began in 1968. The others are 1998 champion Carlos Moya, 2002 runner-up Juan Carlos Ferrero and defending champion Albert Costa, who is Robredo’s next opponent. “I’ve beaten the ace, I’ve beaten the king,” Robredo said. “Now I need to beat the jack, don’t I? If I beat Costa, I’ll have beaten the entire deck of cards. At the end of the match, it was easier for me to make a drop shot than to hit the ball hard. When I was trying to hit, the ball was going two meters out, so that was a good tactic at the end.” Two drop shots helped Robredo win the third-set tiebreaker. Another one, plus two poor volleys by Kuerten, gave the Spaniard a break for a 4:3 lead in the final set. Kuerten overcame four match points before Robredo finished him off. The Spaniard sliced one last drop shot, which Kuerten scooped up. Robredo misplayed a swinging volley, but the ball dropped just inside the baseline for the victory. Robredo sank to his knees in jubilation as Kuerten slammed his racket against the clay. Costa, seeded ninth, eliminated the final Frenchman, Arnaud Clement, 6-2, 7-5, 7-5. Costa, still looking fresh despite three consecutive five-set matches, won in 3 hours, 7 minutes. That increased his time on court to 15:03 in four rounds. Guillermo Coria played 4 hours 41 minutes over two days to earn a chance to beat his hero, Andre Agassi. The No. 7-seeded Coria finished off Argentine Davis Cup teammate Mariano Zabaleta 6-4, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-7(4), 6-3. The fourth-round match was suspended after three sets Sunday because of darkness. Coria’s opponent in the quarterfinals Tuesday will be Agassi, who is three wins from his ninth Grand Slam title and his second at Roland Garros. “I really want to play him because he has always been my hero,” said Coria, who at 21 is 12 years younger than Agassi. ”I faced him on hardcourt twice and couldn’t do anything. Now is my opportunity to play him on clay, so I hope I’ll be able to take my revenge.” Coria, the son of a tennis coach, was named after 1977 French Open champion Guillermo Vilas. But he became fascinated with Agassi. ”I used to see him play when I was a kid with his long hair,” Coria said. ”I used to like his attitude on court, his appearance, the way he would dress. He’s different. From childhood I always used to watch his matches. I have a lot of respect for him.” Until now, Coria’s best Grand Slam effort was at the Australian Open in January, when he reached the fourth round before losing – to Agassi. While Agassi had a day off after winning in straight sets Sunday, Coria will be playing for the third consecutive day. ”I’ll be a little bit tired, but I don’t think this will affect my tennis,’‘ Coria said. ”The will I have will compensate.” His two-day marathon against Zabaleta lasted 4:41 – longest of the tournament – and 377 points. ”Agassi will be better-rested,” Zabaleta said. ”But for me, either of the two can win. Coria runs unbelievable. He’s very tough.” Zabaleta taunted his compatriot during their final set, twice tapping his temple with his forefinger as he shouted at Coria after winning a point. But after Zabaleta dumped a weary backhand into the net on match point, he and Coria hugged. ”It’s always the way things happen in a difficult match,” Coria said. ”Neither of us wanted to lose. I don’t have anything against Mariano.” Martin Verkerk and Rainer Schuettler made their debut on Centre Court in Paris. Verkerk won 6-3, 6-3, 7-5 out-acing his German opponent 22-0! Schuettler came back from a double break (0:3) in the 3rd set winning 4 consecutive games, all in vain.
Quarterfinals: Steve Wine
French Open marathon man Albert Costa dug another big hole in the red clay of Roland Garros, and again found his way out. The defending champion erased a two-set deficit for the third time in five matches Wednesday, wearing down Tommy Robredo for an improbable quarterfinal victory, 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2, coming back from *3:4 (deuce) in the 3rd and 0:2* in the 4th set.”The only thing I tried to do was to continue and to think I could still do it,” Costa said. ”Why not repeat the same success if my body allows it?” When Costa beat Sergio Roitman in the opening round after losing the first two sets, it was the first such comeback in the Spaniard’s 10-year career. Then he did it again in the third round against Nicolas Lapentti. Comeback Costa also won a five-setter in the second round (beat Radek Stepanek). He has played 23 sets and 227 games totaling 18 hours, 32 minutes – including 3:29 Wednesday – to reach the semifinals. He needs two more wins for a second consecutive French Open title. It would also be his second title in the past 89 tournaments. His semifinal opponent Friday will be a friend, countryman and the man he beat in the 2002 final: Juan Carlos Ferrero. The third-seeded Ferrero wasted five match points (including 40/0 as Gonzalez fought triple m.p. off with risky shots!) before eliminating No. 19 Fernando Gonzalez6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4. The other semifinal is Guillermo Coria vs. Martin Verkerk. Helped by Gonzalez’s 15 double-faults, Ferrero joined Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier as the only men to reach the French Open semifinals four consecutive years (soon this feat repeated Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer). Of the final four men, only Costa owns a major championship – and last year’s French Open was his lone title in the past 88 tournaments. He came to Paris 14-10 this season, having won more than two matches at just one event. Costa “found his confidence here,” Ferrero said. “But physically, I’m not sure he’ll be that fresh, because nobody can be after playing that many sets.” After trailing the No. 28-seeded Robredo for most of the match, the ninth-seeded Costa won the final four games. A backhand volley winner on match point gave Costa the victory, and he fell on his back with a scream of jubilation. Leaving the court, Costa was told he didn’t even look tired. ”Maybe it’s the smile,” he said. ”But I am tired, very tired.” Robredo was trying to upset a Grand Slam champion for the third match in a row. He beat top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt in the third round and three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten in the fourth round. But as his match against Costa approached three hours, Robredo was obviously the wearier player. He dallied during changeovers and failed to reach shots he chased down earlier. When Costa reeled him in with a drop shot and then lobbed a winner over his head, a frustrated Robredo gave his racket an overhead heave toward the backstop. Four points later, Costa took the lead for the first time – and for good – when Robredo double-faulted to make it 3:2 in the final set. Costa struggled with his serve early, then lost just one point in his final five service games. The match was big news in Spain, but it began with the center-court stands half empty, and the crowd was subdued for much of the marathon. Costa dropped his first three service games, and Robredo hit 17 winners in the opening set. Costa lost serve twice more in the second set, including in the final game with a double-fault on break point. Robredo broke again for a 2:0 lead in the fourth set, but then showed signs of nerves for the first time, and his mood didn’t improve when he argued at length after the umpire ordered a point replayed. Costa broke back, then broke twice more. He held at love to close the set and force yet another fifth set. Andre Agassi huffed as he chased Guillermo Coria‘s drop shot, each step accompanied by an exhale: shhh, shhh, shhh. Agassi scooped the ball over, and Coria lofted a lob. So Agassi reversed course, chugging to the baseline. His back to the court, he hit the ball over his shoulder, a shot that cleared the net but sailed wide – and Coria was right there, just in case. A step slower than his opponent, and not nearly as comfortable on clay, the 33-year-old Agassi was made to look his age Tuesday. Coria out-slugged the eight-time major champion from the baseline, carving out a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory in the French Open quarterfinals. ”I just couldn’t quite play it exactly on my terms,” Agassi said, ”and that had nothing to do with anything but the way he was hitting the ball.” Coria slapped 20 winners with his backhand, most finding lines (Agassi in his 30s during baseline rallies was moving mainly at his backhand side of the court to play the forehand as much as possible, no-one exploited Agassi’s hole on his right side like Coria then with backhands DTL), and eight with his forehand. He broke serve nine times and came as close as anyone can to breaking Agassi’s will by chasing down shots in the corners and whipping the ball back. Point after point, Coria slid into a stroke, leaving 6-foot skid marks in the clay. ”He’s a good mover,” Agassi said. ”It gives him a lot of options in his game, and he’s a good decision-maker on the court.” For Coria, 21, it was his first victory in three tries against a player he rooted for as a kid. Coria kept one of Agassi’s rackets as a souvenir Tuesday. ”He’s a warrior,” said Coria, seeded seventh. ”I knew I had to make him run. But the thing is, everything went my way today. I knew Agassi was a bit worried.” The Argentine’s first Grand Slam semifinal will come against a player who never won a match at a major until last week: Martin Verkerk, who pounded 27 aces to upset 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 8-6. ”You always look up to these guys, and then you play against them, and you win. It’s really unbelievable,” said Verkerk, who lost in qualifying at Roland Garros last year. ”I don’t know how it happened.’‘ In the last stages of the match, Verkerk had been celebrating each point that he won, it helped him to deliver huge serves as he was two points away from defeat at 4:5 & 5:6.
Semifinals: Steve Wine
Roland Garros newcomer Martin Verkerk became an improbable French Open finalist Friday. The balding 6-foot-3 Dutchman advanced by beating Guillermo Coria, who narrowly avoided being defaulted after one set and still lost, 7-6(4), 6-4, 7-6(0) – Coria had mini-set points at 4:4 in the 2nd set. The unseeded Verkerk had never won a Grand Slam match entering the tournament, and he’s the first man to reach the final in his French Open debut since Mikael Pernfors in 1986. “This is a dream,” Verkerk said. “This is actually a little bit of a joke.” His opponent in the final Sunday will be No. 3-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero, who ended marathon man Albert Costa‘s bid for a second consecutive title, 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-4 (in the 2nd set Costa led 5:3 in games and in the tie-break). Verkerk’s semifinal match nearly came to an abrupt conclusion. Trying to intercept Verkerk’s final shot in the opening set, Coria heaved his racket at the ball – and inadvertently hit a ball girl 20 feet away (6 meters). He avoided being defaulted only because she said she was unhurt. “I threw the racket to touch the ball,” Coria said. “It was not at all my intention to do any harm with the racket when I threw it.” Verkerk’s astonishing run at Paris has improved his career record to 28-28. He’s ranked 46th, thanks to a rise so meteoric that next week he’ll keep a long-standing commitment to play in a Dutch club tournament. With a serve reminiscent of compatriot Richard Krajicek, Verkerk will be a formidable foe for Ferrero. But the stylish Spaniard will be the favorite to win his first Grand Slam title. He was in top form against compatriot Costa, avenging a loss in the 2002 final. “I hope to leave with a better souvenir this time,” Ferrero said. Ferrero took charge by winning five of the first six games, and this time there was no comeback by a weary Costa. He overcame two-set deficits twice during the tournament and won four five-set matches, a Roland Garros record in the Open era. “With all the sets he played, it’s normal he’s tired, and I was a bit fresher,” Ferrero said. “It was a noble fight.” Verkerk smacked nine aces in the first set against the No. 7-seeded Coria, and successive big serves helped him win the final two points of the tiebreaker. When Verkerk closed out the set with an overhead slam, Coria flung his racket. The ball girl saw it coming and turned away to avoid being hurt as the crowd gasped and Coria put his hands on his head, alarmed at what he had done. Coria approached the girl, pressing his palms together in a gesture of apology and shaking her hand. Then he took off his shirt and gave it to her. Deputy tournament referee Fabrice Chouquet and a Grand Slam supervisor consulted and decided not to default Coria because the ball girl said she was unhurt. “If you throw a racket in a ball kid’s face, normally it’s over,” Verkerk said. “But on this occasion, a semifinal, he’s a nice guy, he said sorry – I don’t think he should be disqualified. It’s too big an occasion.” Coria was given a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct and fined $2,000. The episode didn’t seem to affect his play, at least initially. He won the first service break in the match to open the second set and took a 2:0 lead. But Verkerk broke back for 2:2, then broke again in the final game of the set when Coria shanked a forehand. Verkerk has more than just a 125-mph serve. Thanks to consistently deep ground-strokes, he was able to rally from the baseline surprisingly well with the speedy, crafty Coria. In the final tiebreaker, Verkerk hit his 19th ace, a service winner and two ground-stroke winners for a 4:0 lead. When Coria double-faulted on match point, Verkerk slid to the clay, put his hands to his face and arose in tears. “I’m really emotional about it,” Verkerk said. “I don’t know what happened. To be a finalist at Roland Garros is a dream for me. I made it, and it’s unbelievable.” He’s the first Dutchman to reach a Grand Slam final since Krajicek won Wimbledon in 1996.
Final: Howard Fendrich
Juan Carlos Ferrero smacked winners while lunging so far he nearly landed in the courtside geraniums. He whipped returns at his opponent’s feet, put strokes on the lines and controlled the tempo on nearly every point. Add it up, and Ferrero made Martin Verkerk look exactly like what the Dutchman will be this week: a player at a local club. Far more at ease with the setting, Ferrero claimed his first Grand Slam title at the tournament where he came so close the past three years, beating the unseeded Verkerk 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 Sunday in the most lopsided French Open final since 1978. ”This is a tournament I always wanted to win,” the No. 3-seeded Ferrero said, ”and now I have it in my pocket.” When the Spaniard laced a forehand winner on match point, he dropped his racket and fell to his knees. After a hug from Verkerk, Ferrero ran to the other end of the court and hopped the wall to celebrate with friends and family in the guest box. His energy was just that boundless all afternoon. He lived up to his nickname, ”Mosquito,” earned by the way he zips around the court. Scrambling side to side, Ferrero won 15 of the 22 points that lasted 10 strokes or longer. And by standing as far as 12 feet (3.5 meters) behind the baseline, he managed to neutralize with precise returns the serves from 6-foot-5 Verkerk that reach 131 mph. ”I’m not happy, of course,” Verkerk said, ”but on the other hand, I can say: ‘OK, I had no chance.” Until this tournament, he had never won a Grand Slam match, and his overall career record in seven years as a pro was below .500. On Tuesday, he’ll be back in the Netherlands to play for the national club team championship. Verkerk was the first player since Mikael Pernfors in 1986 to reach the final in his French Open debut and the eighth unseeded finalist in the last 35 years. ”To be in a final of a Grand Slam – there are no words for that,” Verkerk said. ”I mean, I’m still dreaming. And I think I will dream for a little longer.” Right from the start Sunday, the 46th-ranked Verkerk seemed happy to be there: when the players walked out on court, he led the way, smiling and waving to the crowd. Ferrero was straight-faced, looking down as he carried two racket bags to his chair. The first game set the tone. Verkerk double-faulted twice, faced five break points, and lost his serve with a backhand in the net. Verkerk pounded 112 aces in his surprising run to the final (18.6 per match), which included upsets of four seeded players. But he managed just 12 aces Sunday. Ferrero threw change-ups instead of fastballs, winning one point when Verkerk shanked a 77 mph kick serve. The irrepressible Verkerk tried to rile himself and the hundreds of Dutch fans wearing orange shirts, hats or wigs. He would pump his fists and yell, ”Come on!” or ”Ho!” after winning points, sometimes skipping back to the baseline. A backhand volley gave Verkerk his only service break and a 2:1 lead in the second set. During the ensuing changeover, a middle-aged male streaker wearing three strategically placed tennis balls – and with the name of a Web site scrawled on his back – pranced on court and hopped the net until being corralled by security. Unfazed, Ferrero went out and broke right back to 2:2. He never let up, and took 10 of the last 11 points to craft the biggest rout for a championship at Roland Garros since Bjorn Borg‘s 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Guillermo Vilas 25 years ago. Ferrero celebrated the last three victories of the tournament in the same style – on knees with clenched fists. The swirling wind that kicked dust into the players’ eyes a few times and rippled their shirts like waves on a pond didn’t help Verkerk: he made just 46 percent of his first serves and double-faulted seven times. Unable to keep up with Ferrero’s deep shots, Verkerk wound up with 56 unforced errors, 30 more than the champion. “My strokes were not good enough. The length was not good enough. My volleys were not good enough,” Verkerk said. “Yeah, I mean, what was actually good?” His game isn’t exactly built for clay. Ferrero’s most certainly is, and 10 of the Spaniard’s 12 career titles have come on the slow surface. “Ferrero is, on clay, the best in the world,” Verkerk said. “On clay, I can work on my strokes whatever I want, but I will never be as quick as Ferrero. I will never be the player Ferrero is.” For all of his skills, though, Ferrero was beginning to earn a reputation as someone who couldn’t produce in the clutch. He’s just the fifth man to reach the French Open semifinals four straight years, but he lost at that stage in 2000 and 2001, and was runner-up to Albert Costa in 2002. Stats of the final. “I always believed that I can win Roland Garros,” Ferrero said. “If not last year, maybe this year or next year.” Asked his plans for the coming weeks, Ferrero smiled and responded: “I’m going to win the tournament at Wimbledon, no?” He lost in the fourth round…