| MARATHON MAN: Albert Costa can’t be written off after winning four five-setters
Paris: After coming through a Grand Slam record of four five-set matches and having given his opponents a two-set start on three occasions, defending champion Albert Costa is not someone to be written off easily.
Costa has not won a single event in 22 attempts since beating fellow-Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero in last year’s French Open final. But he is still standing tall, albeit legs aching, after 23 sets on Roland Garros’ slow, red clay. His latest marathon — a three-hour, 29-minute win over another Spaniard Tommy Robredo — took him into Friday’s semi-finals.
Now, the 27-year-old faces a man on a revenge mission — Ferrero is the player standing in his way to Sunday’s title match.
Argentine Sergio Roitman, Czech Radek Stepanek, Ecuador’s Nicolas Lapentti, Frenchman Arnaud Clement and Robredo may have given Costa numerous tricky moments, but on Friday he goes up against a compatriot who is bursting to win his first Grand Slam at the expense of someone who denied him the ultimate breakthrough 12 months ago.
Third seed Ferrero has seen off Michel Kratochvil of Switzerland, Chile’s Nicolas Massu, Briton Tim Henman, compatriot Felix Mantilla and another Chilean in Fernando Gonzalez, the 19th seed, in a thrilling quarter-final encounter.
“Of course I want to win again,” sais Costa, who has the psychological edge of knowing exactly what it takes to lift the Cup on Centre Court. He also leads 23-year-old Ferrero 3-2 on the career head-to-head count.
“I think it’s worse when you have never won because you are very anxious,” Costa said. “Now I know that when I’m on the court I think: ‘I won once, so don’t suffer pressure, don’t get nervous, don’t get anxious.’ ”
Ferrero said his nail-biting victory over Gonzalez would stand him in good stead on Friday — especially as semi-final nerves are not likely to be as bad as trophy match butterflies. “I’ve learned that when the difficult moments come I have to calm down. Mentally today I wasn’t so good,” Ferrero said after the five-set win over Gonzalez.
One thing going Ferrero’s way is the fact that he sure knows the ambience here, having reached at least the semis four years running — a run which matches those of former greats Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier.
The other semi-final pits Argentine dark horse Guillermo Coria, the seventh seed who served notice recently by winning the Hamburg Masters crown, against the surprise of the tournament — Dutch newcomer Martin Verkerk.
The 21-year-old Coria, who handed out a quarter-final lesson to 1999 champion Andre Agassi, has also come past Brazilian Andre Sa, German Nicolas Kiefer, Hungary’s Attila Savolt and fellow-Argentine Mariano Zabaleta following a tough five-setter.
But in Verkerk, he is up against a man whose bludgeoning serves could prove a decisive weapon.
Springing from nowhere
Verkerk, who had never won a single Grand Slam match before the tournament, started off by dismissing Zeljko Krajan of Croatia, adding the scalps of Peru’s Luis Horna, 29th seed Vince Spadea, Australian Open finalist and 11th seed Rainer Schuettler and then 1998 champion and Carlos Moya.
The giant from Leiderdorp saw off fourth-seeded Moya 8-6 in the fifth set after earlier allowing a two-set lead to slip.
Coria’s power and claycourt expertise should see him through against a man who may feel that a place in the semis is already reward enough.
The Argentine has never met his one-metre, 91-cm rival, but insists he will overcome a gap of 16 centimetres with his clever feet. (AFP)