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The Reign of Spain Still Hasn't Ended in Paris

Tennis: Ferrero and Costa today will play the third all-Spanish men's final at the French Open in the last eight years.

June 09, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — Argentina was supposed to be the new Spain--producing a younger, stronger, faster generation of clay-courters.

As it turned out, the old Spain wasn't ready to be moved aside, at least at Roland Garros. Three Spaniards landed in the final four at the French Open, and two are in today's final, 11th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero and Albert Costa. It will be the first Grand Slam final for both.

This makes three all-Spanish finals at the French Open in the last eight years. In 1998, Carlos Moya defeated Alex Corretja in three sets, and Sergi Bruguera beat Alberto Berasategui in four sets in 1994.

"There is only one match left here," Costa said. "You have to fight to the death in order to win."

Of the top Spaniards, the 26-year-old Costa is quite likely the least known. The glamorous Moya has his own cologne line and finds his picture in glossy Spanish gossip magazines. Corretja twice has reached the French Open final, and is known for losing to Pete Sampras at the 1996 U.S. Open and, more recently, beating Sampras on grass in Houston this year in Davis Cup.

Ferrero, 22, is the hope of the future, maybe even the present, and much has been expected of him, as he lost to eventual champion Gustavo Kuerten the last two years here. His nickname is Mosquito.

Costa? Well, he once asked to be called Albert, instead of Alberto.

"Maybe Al is good," he said. "I've been playing a long time [since 1994]. I don't know if I'm more famous or not. I'm trying to do my job every day, trying to run. I play, play, play."

Ferrero and Costa have played four times, all on clay, and Costa won their only match this year, last month in Hamburg, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

In this tournament, Costa has had one five-set match, beating Guillermo Canas of Argentina in the quarterfinals. Ferrero needed five sets against Nicolas Coutelot of France in the second round and Gaston Gaudio of Argentina in the fourth round.

Ferrero had his doubts earlier in the tournament after spraining his right ankle the day before his second-round match. He needed injections to move forward and didn't appear to be moving freely until his quarterfinal win over Andre Agassi and Marat Safin in the semifinals. Costa, however, presents, a different challenge. They are countrymen and appear to be close.

"He's a very solid player," Ferrero said. "It's difficult to drive him out of the court. It's almost as if he had a fan behind him. It's difficult to make him lose but I'm going to try."

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