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Ferreira Surprises Even Himself in L.A. Final

South African beats top-seeded Hewitt in three sets despite groin injury that has slowed him for months.

August 04, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Wayne's World? Wayne Ferreira of South Africa wasn't in Wayne's World -- or anything close to his usual one -- before the start of the Mercedes-Benz Cup at UCLA.

This tournament was merely supposed to be a test of a groin injury that has bothered him for months. Which is why Ferreira was hardly despondent when he faced three match points in the 10th game of the third set of Sunday's final against Lleyton Hewitt of Australia.

Lowered expectations never felt so good.

Ferreira promptly erased the three match points to hold serve, and two games later, he had the title, his first singles championship in almost three years, earning new-found admiration from a crowd of 7,027 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.

The seventh-seeded Ferreira defeated top-seeded Hewitt, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, in 2 hours 28 minutes, serving 19 aces.Ferreira, 31, is the only other player in his 30s to win a singles championship on the tour in 2003, joining Andre Agassi, 33, who has won four tournaments this year. His last title was in November, 2000, coming indoors at Stuttgart, Germany against Hewitt.

Incredibly, Ferreira was worried about even making it through the first round at UCLA, let alone an entire event. He was carried off on a stretcher at the French Open because of the groin injury, played and lost his first match at Wimbledon, and has been in constant pain since then.

"I was 50-50 to even play on Tuesday," he said. "I really wasn't sure. I thought I'd go out and if the pain stayed the same, I'd play. If it got worse, I would stop. Luckily, it stayed the same. I'm over the moon. I shouldn't really have been playing. I really don't have words to express how happy I am."

Said Hewitt: "He surprised me the whole week. I played him in the doubles in the first round [Monday] and he was really struggling. If you would have asked me then whether he could last five matches in singles, I would have said there's no way. It was a great effort from him."

Neither would have anticipated such a high-quality final based on their recent practice sessions last month at Stanford and in San Francisco when Hewitt was in the Bay Area. This was Hewitt's first tournament since Wimbledon.

"Both of us were playing terrible last week," Ferreira said. "Our practices were not great at all. I don't think he thought I was hitting the ball well, and I didn't think he was either. It was one of those where we were taking a break and trying to get back in it. It was a little bit scrappy tennis."

Hewitt agreed Ferreira wasn't at his best.

"I actually thought I practiced pretty well, and I don't think he really wanted to test out his groin," Hewitt said. "He still had that in the back of his mind what he had done in the French Open. He was probably going through the motions a little bit more."

That didn't matter Sunday. Hewitt and Ferreira produced a stellar display of shot-making, as points were often constructed carefully, rather than going for sheer power on the first opportunity. They brought out the best in one another. There was one service break in the first set, with Ferreira breaking Hewitt's serve at 30 in the eighth game, securing it with a backhand down the line.

In the second set, Hewitt remained resolute despite facing break points in all of his service games except one. Both continued to fend off break points in the third. Overall, Hewitt converted two of 14 break-point opportunities, and Ferreira was three for 15. The stunning turnaround came in the 10th game of the third when Hewitt had his three match points. Ferreira erased the first with an ace, the second with a forehand winner and the third with another forehand winner.

"It's not so enjoyable when you have match points," said Hewitt, who double-faulted three times to be broken at 5-5 in the third set.

Ferreira now will have his name listed with other illustrious past L.A. champions -- Agassi, Sampras, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, to name a few. "I've looked at the board walking through the walkway every day and there's not one bad tennis player on that board," he said. "So to be up on it is a real privilege. There's a great number of names. It's a wonderful feeling."

It will last longer than his new beard, of course.

"I'll probably keep it until I lose," Ferreira said. "Maybe if I don't lose I'll be looking really funny in a couple of months."

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