Sunday, June 09, 2002

Ferrero, Costa meet in all-Spanish final



By RICK GANO
AP Sports Writer

        PARIS — Juan Carlos Ferrero's game of consistency, featuring powerful and precise groundstrokes, is perfectly suited for the red clay of Roland Garros.

        He has made the quick trip on the slow surface at the French Open from junior runner-up just four years ago to men's finalist. On Sunday, he goes for the championship against fellow Spaniard Albert Costa.

        It is the first Grand Slam final for each of them.

        “I made up my mind to win this tournament and the objective is not really achieved until you come to the final and you win it,” said Ferrero, just 22.

        “I won't really be totally happy until I do.”

        Ferrero has come close in the previous two years, losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Gustavo Kuerten.

        “I have a bit more experience this year than last. Of course, that is natural,” Ferrero said.

        His serve is more effective and allows him to win some easy points, which can be critical against a steady baseliner like Costa, who eliminated Kuerten in the fourth round this year and then beat another Spaniard, two-time finalist Alex Corretja, in the semifinals.

        Marat Safin, beaten in straight sets by Ferrero in the semifinals, sees a much different player than the one growing up in Spain, where Safin used to train. Ferrero is no longer just content to get the ball back.

        “Now the guy is attacking, he's serving well,” Safin said. “He opens the court very well with his forehand. With his backhand he plays much more straight. His forehand is much better, but the backhand is solid.”

        Considered one of the favorites before Roland Garros began, Ferrero nearly didn't get past the first round — he injured his ankle in practice for a second-round match and says he was nearly out of the tournament.

        “But finally with the help of the doctor and my friends, I could play and I'm in the final,” he said.

        His meeting with Costa marks the third all-Spanish final at the French Open since 1994, when Sergi Brugera beat Alberto Berasategui. Four years ago, Carlos Moya defeated Corretja.

        “I think it's a party, a Spanish party in the final,” said Ferrero, who knocked Andre Agassi out in the quarterfinals. “For sure we're going to enjoy this match.”

        Costa, who will turn 27 later this month, has won 11 career titles — all on clay — to six for Ferrero, five on clay.

        But if Pete Sampras' streak of 28 tournaments without winning a title seems lengthy, consider that Costa is playing his 66th event since he won in Kitzbuhel, Austria, back in 1999. He's reached two other finals in the stretch, losing them both.

        Costa won a three-setter against Ferrero on clay at Hamburg, Germany, last month and they are 2-2 in head-to-heads.

        “What I have to try is to play as I've been playing so far: in a cool way and an intelligent way,” Costa said.

        When the final is over Sunday, Costa or Ferrro will be the eighth man to win in the last eight Grand Slam tournaments.

        “I don't think anybody's the favorite in the finals,” Ferrero said.

       



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