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Agassi Run Out of French Open

In quarterfinal match, seventh-seeded Coria hustles his way to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over the second-seeded player.

June 04, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PARIS -- Wherever Andre Agassi hit the tennis ball, Guillermo Coria was already there. Waiting, racket pulled back, hitting another shot back, right on a line, sideline or baseline, it didn't matter.

A 21-year-old from Venado Tuerto, Argentina, with inexhaustible energy and hero worship that turned into poised bravado instead of nervous flightiness, Coria said, "I am very happy because I'm never going to forget this throughout my life."

What the seventh-seeded Coria won't forget is the moment he beat second-seeded Agassi in the quarterfinals of the French Open, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

What Coria won't forget is the moment Agassi hit one, final forehand long past the baseline. What Coria won't forget is the feeling he got when he put a consoling arm around Agassi's shoulders. What Coria won't forget is draping himself over the net and being both exhausted and exhilarated.

Agassi, 33, accepted his defeat gracefully but with no surrender.

"Today, I got outplayed for the middle two sets, made an adjustment, gave myself a look," Agassi said. "But he played the bigger points well, executed better and deserved to win."

But when he was asked about his hopes for Wimbledon, Agassi answered: "To play Coria."

For Agassi, the world needs to be perfect for him to get to another French Open final. This was the third consecutive year Agassi was eliminated in the quarterfinals by a lower-ranked player.

A night and early morning of rain left the red clay slower than ever, left the balls heavy. There were points when it seemed Agassi had crushed a winner and then the ball would travel lazily, taking its time, giving the 5-foot-9 Coria an extra second or two to take aim up the line with his two-handed backhand.

"I just couldn't quite play it exactly on my terms today," Agassi said. "For me, against a player such as Coria, I need to step up and be in control. That's a lot easier on other surfaces than it is on clay because I'm hitting a lot of backhands above my shoulder.

"And if I leave it short, he's quick enough to get over and get good direction back cross court or to hit it up the line. It's different when you can count on the bounce and you can just push forward and when I can take the ball in my strike zone. He was getting it up on my backhand and hitting it up the line real well. He might have made 15 in a row there between the second and third sets. That's just too good."

Before the match, Coria had spoken of Agassi as his tennis hero. Coria said he hoped some day to play like Agassi.

Agassi said, "I'd rather not be his idol and play him on hard court than to be his idol and play him on clay."

In 2001, Coria was suspended for seven months by the ATP after testing positive for a banned substance, nandrolone, a steroid. Coria said he had inadvertently ingested the substance in a food supplement and is suing the manufacturer.

Until then, Coria, who won the 1999 French Open junior title, had been making a steady climb in the rankings.

Against Agassi, Coria started climbing from the start. He jumped ahead in every set. Only in the first, when Agassi won five straight games after trailing, 4-1, did the eight-time Grand Slam event champion make a comeback.

"After losing the first set, I was able to leave my fears behind and control the game," said Coria, who broke Agassi's serve nine times.

In his first major semifinal, Coria will play another semifinal rookie.

Unseeded Martin Verkerk of the Netherlands upset fourth-seeded and 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 8-6. Verkerk, 24, served 27 aces and played the kind of hard-court tennis on clay of which Agassi could be jealous.

"So," Moya said, "27 aces on clay is not easy. His serve was the key for the match."

Verkerk had never won a Grand Slam match until this French Open. His only victory came indoors, at Milan in February.

"If you said one year ago to me, 'You gonna play Carlos Moya at Roland Garros quarterfinal and you beat him,' I would say, 'OK, let's take a lot of beers and then I'll probably believe you,' " Verkerk said.

Agassi may have needed a few consolation beers Tuesday night.

He had been cheered loudly, happily and finally desperately by a French crowd that has always adored him. And although it seems Agassi will always run up against the wrong guy at the wrong time in the wrong place when it comes to the French Open, Agassi would not agree.

"I am clear about the fact I need a lot of things to go right for me here," he said. "But to suggest that I couldn't overcome that and win it, I don't believe. I always believe I can find a way."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

French Open Men

Highlights from Day 9 of the French Open on Tuesday:

* Seeded winners: No. 7 Guillermo Coria.

* Seeded losers: No. 2 Andre Agassi, No. 4 Carlos Moya.

* Stat of the day: 27. The number of aces Martin Verkerk served as he beat Carlos Moya.

QUARTERFINALS

* TV: Today, 5 a.m., ESPN2

9 a.m., ESPN.

* Tommy Robredo (28), Spain, vs. Albert Costa (9), Spain

* Juan Carlos Ferrero (3), Spain, vs. Fernando Gonzalez (19), Chile

REMAINING SCHEDULE

* Men's semifinals: Friday, 7 a.m.,

Ch. 4; 10 a.m., ESPN

* Martin Verkerk, Netherlands, vs. Guillermo Coria (7), Argentina

* Women's final: Saturday, 6 a.m.,

Ch. 4

* Men's final: Sunday, 9 a.m., Ch. 4

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