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It's Ferreira and Hewitt in Final

South African and seventh-seeded player knocks off No. 5 Philippoussis, 6-4, 7-5, and Australian brushes aside Kiefer, 6-2, 6-4.

August 03, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Of course, a thirty-something tennis player with a wonderful return of serve reached the Mercedes-Benz Cup final. It almost has become expected around here.

Welcome to the unexpected: This player was not named Andre Agassi.

Instead, 31-year-old Wayne Ferreira of South Africa was the one disrupting the prospect of an All-Australian final. The seventh-seeded Ferreira defeated No. 5 Mark Philippoussis of Australia, 6-4, 7-5, in the semifinals on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Tennis Center before 6,284. (As for Agassi, he was playing a conflicting tournament at Washington, losing in the semifinals.)

Instead of an All-Aussie final at UCLA, it will be an all-IMTA final. In today's final, Ferreira will play No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, who had little trouble with Nicolas Kiefer of Germany, winning their semifinal, 6-2, 6-4, in the afternoon before 6,134. Both semifinals were 1 hour 21 minutes.

Ferreira has been more known for his off-court activities lately, as the leader of the International Men's Tennis Assn., a splinter group formed out of discontent with the ATP, which runs men's tennis. And Hewitt, who called his serving "patchy" in the semifinals, is its most prominent member.

Hewitt and Ferreira have more in common than IMTA. When Hewitt was watching his girlfriend, Kim Clijsters, in the Stanford tournament the week before coming to Los Angeles, he practiced a couple of times against Ferreira, who lives in the Bay Area and helps coach the California l tennis team.

But there was more talk about the prospect of Hewitt playing his fellow Davis Cup teammate and current doubles partner, Philippoussis, in the final than there was about facing his fellow union member, using the term loosely.

Philippoussis, who had won an exciting three-setter against Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil in the quarterfinals on Friday night, appeared flat at the start of his semifinal, getting broken at love in the opening game. He broke back in the next game but seemed hard-pressed to sustain any measure of consistency.

Ferreira always has had decent success against him. Including Saturday, he has lost only twice to Philippoussis in eight matches, and only once on a hard-court surface.

A lasting image of Ferreira was when he was carried off on a stretcher at the French Open after he injured his groin in the third round. Since then, he had played only once match, losing in the first round at Wimbledon, before coming to Los Angeles, and despite lingering pain and discomfort from the injury, it didn't seem to curtail his mobility.

"I played a pretty solid match all the way around. I'm very happy," Ferreira said. "I'm not fully healthy yet," he said. "I'm still struggling a bit with my groin. It's kind of at that stage where it's not getting better or worse. I'm playing through it. It's a little bit of pain but I've never killed anybody."

He scrambled well the whole match. In the second set, Ferreira reached break point by lobbing over Philippoussis and seized the decisive break in the 11th game by hitting a running one-handed backhand passing shot, nailing the corner, taking a 6-5 lead. Later, he called the shot of the match, if not the day, a lucky one.

"What can you do? It was right in the corner on the baseline, so that's kind of how it felt, a little," said Philippoussis, who had 13 aces but 37 unforced errors.

Said Ferreira, smiling: "It's probably one of the only ones I've ever hit. It was a lucky one."

At 31, he is having one of his best years, having reached the semifinals at Sydney and the Australian Open. His longevity and success certainly has not amazed Philippoussis.

"I wouldn't say I'm surprised," he said. "He's pretty fit. And he's moving really well at the moment. I don't think you can ever judge a person, at 31 ... it depends on how you feel. Obviously he's feeling good and Andre has shown there's no reason why you can't keep playing. He's 33 and still playing some of his best tennis.

"So I think that would inspire someone like Wayne. You're playing this well. Why would you think of retiring?"

Ferreira is always thinking of ways to reinvent himself. The baby-faced South African looks like he is a hockey player, growing a beard as a playoff superstition.

"I go through stages in my life where I try to do lots of things to try to grow the hair sometimes," he said. "Cut it short. I've never been able to grow a beard. I thought I'd give it a try, see how long it takes. It's taken a while. About a month now."

He joked on the court during his TV interview about the hair growth.

"I finally hit puberty," he said. "I thought I could grow it out now."

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