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Costa, Ferrero Extend Themselves

They both have to go five sets to beat younger, less-heralded opponents and advance to the semifinal round.

June 05, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — The sounds of the French Open men's quarterfinals were loud and painful, tired and excited, disgusted, distressed, determined.

There was grunting and groaning and finally there were two five-set winners, two Spaniards who conquered nerves, exhaustion and finally younger, less-heralded opponents.

Ninth-seeded and defending champion Albert Costa went five sets for the fourth time in five matches to beat 21-year-old countryman Tommy Robredo, 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2, Wednesday. And third-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero, who lost to Costa in last year's finals, won an entertaining marathon against 19th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.

For seven hours, those four men hit mostly exquisite shots from every place on the court. The lines were dusted with the red clay of Stade Roland Garros that came off the balls that were hit so perfectly. But no one has played harder than Costa.

He has played 22 tournaments since winning here a year ago and he has not come close to winning another. In his five matches here, Costa has played 227 games, 18 hours 32 minutes of tennis. For this, Costa has arrived back in the semifinals to play Ferrero again. And against Robredo, Costa came back from two sets down for the third time.

"I can tell you that when I am two sets down, I still think I can win the match," Costa said. "I start to think maybe if I'm holding one set, maybe the other guy is going to be tired. Me too, but also him. Then the match is difficult for everybody."

In his first match here this year, Costa came back from two sets down against Sergio Roitman. It was the first time in his 10-year career Costa had won a five-setter after losing the first two sets. Now it's a habit.

"I promise," Costa said, "that it is not a strategy."

By the end of his match against the 28th-seeded Robredo, the younger man was breathing heavily and Costa was moving forward and dictating play. The last five games of the match went to Costa.

"Albert, he just changed his tactics and he tried to push hard and starting to hit returns on the line and tried to get more aggressive," Robredo said.

Ferrero had a nervous finish to his match against the big-hitting Gonzalez.

Ahead, 5-4, 40-0 and serving, Ferrero squandered five match points before finally spinning in a crafty serve that Gonzalez, 22, sent long.

When the two met at the net, they embraced for several seconds. "He told me he wished I win now," Ferrero said, "and that I am a great tennis player.

"It's pretty difficult to play against him because he hits the ball so hard and I can't control the ball. He has a lot of acceleration. It's pretty difficult to play."


Arlen Kantarian, chief executive of professional tennis for the United States Tennis Assn., said the organization is interested in consolidating some of the men's and women's events that comprise the summer hard-court circuit leading up to the U.S. Open.

Kantarian said it would make sense to have a single tournament for men and women at the new Carson facility instead of separate WTA and ATP events at Carson and UCLA. He also mentioned moving the Stanford Palo Alto WTA tournament to Cincinnati at some point and joining the men's and women's Canadian Opens. Cincinnati is host to an ATP Masters Series tournament.


Men's Semifinals

*--* * Friday, 7 a.m., Ch. 4; 10 a.m., ESPN * Juan Carlos Ferrero (3), Spain, vs. Albert Costa (9), Spain * Martin Verkerk, Netherlands, vs. Guillermo Coria (7), Argentina * Head-to-head: Costa leads Ferrero, 3-2; Verkerk and Coria have never played * Men's final: Sunday, 9 a.m., Ch. 4


*--* Albert Costa set a French Open record with his fourth five-set victory. Three others have won four five-setters at Grand Slam tournaments since the Open Era (1968-present): * Albert Costa, 2003 French Open * Nicolas Lapentti, 1999 Australian Open * Todd Martin, 1994 Wimbledon * Steve Denton, 1981 Australian Open


*--* A look at the semifinalists and their records on clay and hard courts in 2003: Player Clay Hard J. Carlos Ferrero 26-3 (.897) 12-5 (.706) Albert Costa 12-5 (.706) 8-6 (.571) Martin Verkerk 11-6 (.647) 3-7 (.300) Guillermo Coria 23-4 (.852) 9-5 (.643)


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