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It's Up to a Couple of Conquistadors

French Open: Corretja ousts local favorite Pioline and Moya beats Mantilla to set up all-Spanish final.

June 06, 1998|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — It has turned out to be All-Armada, all the time at the French Open.

Friday's men's semifinals looked like just another training session in Barcelona, with a visitor from France being allowed to drop in for the day.

By the time the final ball was hit, Cedric Pioline's day pass expired, courtesy of 14th-seeded Alex Corretja of Spain, who defeated an exhausted Pioline, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, in 2 hours 21 minutes.

In Sunday's final, Corretja will play his dinner buddy and training partner, 12th-seeded Carlos Moya of Spain. Moya beat his running mate and countryman, 15th-seeded Felix Mantilla, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, in 2 hours 42 minutes in the first semifinal, finishing with a 122-mph service winner.

There is precedent for two Spanish players meeting in the French Open final, most recently in 1994 when Sergi Bruguera beat Alberto Berasategui. King Juan Carlos of Spain was there, and he might come to Roland Garros this weekend. He was not at the semifinals.

Of the two finalists, Moya had a much tougher task Friday. He lost the first set in 47 minutes. After winning the second, Moya was in danger of dropping the third, trailing 4-1. But he turned the momentum around by winning five consecutive games, losing only five points in that stretch.

"I decided it was going to be a change, otherwise the set was for him," said Moya, who reached the 1997 Australian Open final.

"Two sets to one down, it's tough to come back. So I took a lot of risks on my forehand and everything worked out today."

Mantilla said the semifinal slipped away at that juncture too.

"Until the third set when I was leading, 4-1, I think Moya wasn't confident because I was playing better," Mantilla said. "When he won the third set, he got a lot of confidence. After that, it was difficult for me because his forehand was playing very well, and he served OK."

Corretja simply wore down Pioline on a hot, muggy day. Pioline needed intravenous treatment after his five-set quarterfinal marathon Wednesday. He said he felt somewhat slow on the court against Corretja.

"I was a little bit tired today because I played three tough matches in five sets," said Pioline, who was trying to become the first Frenchman to win here since Yannick Noah in 1983. "He played very good today. I had a lot of chances on his serve, my serve."

For Corretja, this is a career milestone. He had never gone past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event.

"I've been working my whole life to find a place in a final of a Grand Slam," he said. "Let's see if I can win it."

*

The Williams sisters did meet in a Grand Slam final, after all.

Venus Williams and Justin Gimelstob defeated Serena Williams and Luis Lobo of Argentina, 6-4, 6-4, in the mixed doubles final, rallying from a 4-1 first-set deficit.

Venus Williams and Gimelstob, having won the Australian Open mixed doubles final, are halfway to a Grand Slam. Lobo, 27, evidently approached Serena Williams about playing doubles. "He found me," Serena said.

Said Venus: "It was a tough match, we were down in the first set. It was the toughest team Justin and I had ever played, ever. So we better watch out."

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