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Gaudio Ready to Defer to Fellow Argentines

He says his compatriots in the French Open men's semifinals are at a much higher level.

June 03, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — If the French Open has indeed turned into the Argentine Open -- with a visitor's pass granted to Tim Henman of Britain -- then a quick lesson on its hierarchical nature and structure is in order.

Gaston Gaudio of Argentina, who defeated No. 12 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, in the quarterfinals, offered a tutorial, describing his supporting role. On Wednesday, Gaudio and No. 8 David Nalbandian joined countryman Guillermo Coria in the semifinals, with Nalbandian overcoming a taut challenge against three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil, winning 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6).

Gaudio looks at Coria and Nalbandian and does not view himself as an equal.

"No, I think I'm going to be somewhere behind and providing support," he said. "They are the geniuses. They're the Galactico and I am the Valencia."

Galactico would be Real Madrid, a soap opera posing as a soccer team. Think of massive, Laker-like talent, with some of the same larger-than-life tendencies, and you get the idea. And Valencia, of the Spanish League, isn't shabby, either.

"I see things from the outside, just as you do," Gaudio said. "I think they have a special talent. They're incredible. They're in the top 10. I would be happy if they won the tournament. They really have something in them."

This sort of dominance by one country is not unprecedented at the French Open. Two years ago, Spain had three of the four semifinalists -- Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Alex Corretja, and it also happened in 1998 when Carlos Moya, Corretja and Felix Mantilla made the final four.

In 1982, Argentina had two of the four semifinalists -- Guillermo Vilas and Jose-Luis Clerc.

Nalbandian said he ran into Gaudio and they spoke of the astounding success of the Argentines.

"I congratulated him. He congratulated me," Nalbandian said. "We just said it's absolutely incredible what we're doing this week."

He had the tougher quarterfinal, facing the sentimental favorite, Kuerten, dealing with windy conditions and the crowd. The match was oddly uneven. Kuerten was unable to capitalize on four set points in the fourth set to push it to a fifth, and that certainly does not happen often to him on the main show court at Roland Garros.

"It's not easy to play against Guga," Nalbandian said. "He's almost a local here."

Nalbandian saved one set point, serving at 3-5. He salvaged two more in the next game, with Kuerten serving at 5-4, the second on a sharp-angled forehand winner.

But Nalbandian got tight in the next game, double-faulting twice to give Kuerten another opportunity to serve out the set at 6-5. But Kuerten couldn't seize control and was broken at 30.

In the tiebreaker, Kuerten established a 5-2 lead, but Nalbandian kept chipping away and saved a fourth set point, at 5-6 in the tiebreaker, erasing it with a forehand into the open court.

Kuerten, who has an ailing hip, said he needed painkillers to get through the tournament, taking them before and during his matches.

"I was feeling pain, but I was maintaining a good level of tennis," Kuerten said. "Like it was in the other rounds and I was able to beat even [Roger] Federer like this."

The Hewitt-Gaudio match never reached the drama of Kuerten-Nalbandian. Hewitt was unable to stay in the first set when he dropped his serve in the sixth game after holding a 40-0 lead. He had 43 unforced errors to Gaudio's 19, and rarely looked comfortable.

"I just didn't feel I was hitting the ball as cleanly as I've been hitting it over the last week or so," Hewitt said.

In the semifinals, No. 3 Coria plays No. 9 Henman, and Nalbandian plays Gaudio. Gaudio and Nalbandian have never played, and there's no telling how long that match could take.

"He changes from defense to offense as well as anyone out there," Hewitt said of Gaudio. "Even though he's sometimes so far behind the baseline, he's able to turn that around. Today was no different. He plays with great margin over the net. He's not going to give you those cheap errors."

*

The future destination of the Tennis Masters Cup hasn't exactly been a state secret, but an official announcement about its move to Shanghai is expected today. Shanghai will become the host in 2005, after a two-year stop in Houston, and the terms are said to be three years, plus an option for additional years.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Men's Semifinals

No. 3 GUILLERMO CORIA vs. No. 9 TIM HENMAN

* Head to head: Coria leads, 2-1.

* Last meeting: Coria won, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in round of 64 at 2003 Cincinnati tournament.

* On clay: They have split. Henman won at Monte Carlo in 2002 and Coria won at Rome in 2003.

No. 8 DAVID NALBANDIAN vs. GASTON GAUDIO

* Head to head: First meeting.

* When: Friday.

* Wednesday's statistic of the day: 20. Number of points Gaston Gaudio won in 21 trips to the net against Lleyton Hewitt.

* Today's men's doubles semifinal: Defending champions Bob and Mike Bryan of Camarillo (1), vs. Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro (6), France.

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