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Spanish Accent for Men's Final

Tennis: Ferrero defeats listless Safin, and fellow Spaniard Costa beats Corretja in semifinals.

June 08, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — For those who seemed incredulous that Marat Safin could play so poorly and indifferently, trying drop shots at the most inopportune moments, his display a few months ago in Melbourne evidently didn't have a lasting impact.

These mental shortcomings are becoming the norm, not the exception, for the Russian. It happened against Thomas Johansson in the Australian Open final, and reappeared Friday against Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain in the semifinals of the French Open.

Though Safin has played in two Grand Slam finals (winning the U.S. Open in 2000), and Ferrero in none, experience didn't seem to matter much on the slow red clay of Roland Garros. The 11th-seeded Ferrero defeated second-seeded Safin, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, in 2 hours 8 minutes, following the semifinal between close friends, Spaniards Albert Costa and Alex Corretja, which was won by Costa, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, in 3 hours 10 minutes.

Corretja had started to make something of a comeback when he went for a volley in the second game of the fourth set and hurt his right hand after tumbling to the ground. After an injury timeout, he returned and lost the next two points and Costa had the key break of serve.

Costa and Ferrero will play Sunday, the first Grand Slam final for either Spanish player. It is the first Slam final between Spaniards since Carlos Moya defeated Corretja in 1998 here.

Ferrero, 22, is one month younger than Safin. He jokingly rejected the notion that Safin's lack of mental focus was the major factor.

"I don't want to think this, you know," Ferrero said. "I want to think I played so great and I won this match for this, not that he lost his mind."

Said Safin: "I wasn't good enough today. That's it. It's another day. You have to accept these things. You cannot play all the time your best tennis. Sometimes, you're playing great, you try, but you cannot find it."

Effort was not the problem in the first semifinal as the Spaniards parked themselves well behind the baseline and settled in for a lengthy battle. Costa and Corretja are close friends--so tight, in fact, that Corretja will be the best man in Costa's wedding in six days.

Costa had twin daughters a little more than a year ago, and he has been more relaxed on the court since then. He also has been working with a sports psychologist who is the wife of his coach. Still, it didn't stop him from tightening up; he squandered two match points in the eighth game of the third set.

He broke through in the next game, advancing when Corretja hit a backhand wide. Costa still made it interesting, tripping and tumbling on the clay as the final backhand drifted out.

"Oh, I feel a little bit stupid," Costa said. "But I was completely happy. These things happened. I don't know what I did with my foot and I fell on the court. But I'm unbelievably happy."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

French Open

Men: No. 11 Juan Carlos Ferrero and No. 20 Albert Costa advance to the first all-Spanish final since 1998.

Men's final: Sunday, 6 a.m., Channel 4.

Women's final: Today, Venus Williams vs. Serena Williams, 8 a.m., Channel 4.

Stat of the Day: 78--Unforced errors by Marat Safin in his 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 semifinal loss to Ferrero.

Quote of the Day: "I want to think I played great because of that, not because he lost his mind."--Ferrero after beating the often-emotional Safin.

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