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Coria Earns an Inside Chance at Indian Wells

Argentine works his way up from outside courts and beats Grosjean to advance to quarterfinals at Pacific Life Open. Agassi also wins.

March 17, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

He is the baby-faced assassin of this event. While the Federers and Roddicks and Agassis make their way through the men's bracket in the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament to big headlines and great acclaim, he has toiled on the outside courts, handling whatever the back forty threw his way, yelling a Spanish word of joy at the moment of victory and walking off with his new wife, Carla.

Tuesday, Guillermo Coria of Argentina, probably the least recognized No. 4-seeded player ever in this tournament, made it to Stadium Court, the Indian Wells Garden. There, he played Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean, a veteran who got to the semifinals of Wimbledon last year. And there, just like out on the back forty, Coria did what was necessary in a 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 victory, yelled a Spanish word of joy at the moment of victory and went to find Carla, whom he married Dec. 27.

It was Coria's first advance to the quarterfinals here, and Andre Agassi made it too, beating Russian Mikhail Youzhny in the night session, 7-5, 6-2.

Agassi struggled a bit in the first set, needing to save three break points at 6-5 before prevailing. But then, he broke serve to open the second set, and never faced a break point the rest of the way, hitting a big serve on match point that Youzhny hit long and then delivering his traditional four-sided kiss to his adoring fans in all parts of the stadium.

"The first set was a little dodgy, to say the least," Agassi said. "It could have gone either way there for sure, down 4-2, 40-love."

Roger Federer advanced on the other side of the draw, taking out American Mardy Fish, 6-4, 6-1, and Andy Roddick will play for a quarterfinal spot tonight.

But it is Agassi, seeded a spot below at No. 5, who has the next match against Coria. And while that may sound like a walk in the park to the general fan, it will be anything but, as Agassi knows. It was Coria who beat him at last year's French Open and an injured Coria who gave Agassi a decent 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 match in last year's U.S. Open quarterfinals.

They have played four times, Agassi has won three, but Coria is quietly becoming a force in men's tennis.

He is 22, 5 feet 9 and 145 pounds. He looks like a choirboy, but handles the likes of 6-5, 200-pound, huge-serving Max Mirnyi with ease and has as large a variety of shots as anybody on the tour.

Net-rushers get crimps in their neck watching balls go past them on the left, right and over their heads. Baseline bangers find that their biggest and best winning shot keeps coming back against Coria.

Grosjean, who saw his fast start evaporate in a poor 7-2 tiebreaker that decided the second set, is one of those baseline bangers.

With Coria, "you always have to play one more shot," he said, "

That apparently has nothing to do with the court setting, even though Coria clearly has his preference.

"I do prefer the stadium," Coria said, through an interpreter. "I like that there are no distractions in the stadium, because I don't look at the mountains. I can see everything going on around me, and I can concentrate better in the stadium."

Coria didn't join the tour until 2000, and he has already won $2.7 million and six events, plus he has a semifinal finish in a Grand Slam tournament, last year's French.

He grew up in a tennis family in Venado Tuerto, three hours from Buenos Aires. He was named after former Argentine star Guillermo Vilas and tried to pattern himself as a young player after Vilas and Agassi.

That doesn't mean the Coria-Agassi quarterfinal match will be hero versus hero-worshipper, according to Coria.

"I am going to put aside my thoughts about him being my hero, which he still is," Coria said. "When I'm on the court, I'm going to play and still win."

Agassi, informed that Coria said he is still his hero and still wants to beat him, laughed and said, "Well, he's my hero and I want to beat him too."

Agassi said that Coria is arguably the fastest player on the tour, and added, "He's just a tough competitor. He moves well and has lots of weapons."

The women's tournament, especially since the injury withdrawal of Kim Clijsters, has continued to look like an inevitable march to a Lindsay Davenport-Justine Henin-Hardenne final.

The top-ranked Henin-Hardenne beat Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic in the late night match, 6-3, 6-4.

She will next face Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, who beat Amy Frazier, 6-0, 6-3, and is the only player to beat Henin-Hardenne this year. Davenport advanced by beating Meghann Shaughnessy, 6-1, 6-3.

Others making the women's quarterfinals included Anastasia Myskina, who won the battle of the Russians with a 6-2, 6-1 rout of Maria Sharapova, and veteran Conchita Martinez of Spain, who eliminated Barbara Schett of Austria, 6-1, 6-2.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Featured Matches

Today at the Pacific Life Open, Indian Wells Tennis Garden:

SINGLES, Stadium Court, 10 a.m.

* Irakli Labadze, Republic of Georgia, vs. Agustin Calleri, Argentina.

* Gisela Dulko, Argentina, vs. Lindsay Davenport.

* Taylor Dent vs. James Blake.

* Wayne Arthurs, Australia, vs. Tim Henman, Britain.

7 p.m.

* Nicolas Escude, France, vs. Andy Roddick.

* Nathalie Dechy, France, vs. Fabiola Zuluaga, Colombia.

DOUBLES, Stadium 2, Noon

* Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan vs. Arnaud Clement/Sebastien Grosjean,

France.

* Lindsay Davenport/Corina Morariu vs. Nadia Petrova (Russia)/Meghann Shaughnessy.

A LOOK AHEAD

* Women's semifinals: Friday.

* Women's final: Sunday, noon.

* Men's semifinals: Saturday, noon.

* Men's final: Sunday, 2 p.m.

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