Monday, August 12, 2002

Moya too much for No. 1 Hewitt

Spaniard stops Aussie's win streak in finals

By Neil Schmidt,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Carlos Moya tosses his racket in celebration.
(Greg Ruffing photo)
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        MASON — Clay-court specialists are sometimes called “dirt-ballers,” but on every surface Carlos Moya is currently playing hardball.

        The 25-year-old Spaniard is on a hot streak reminiscent of his run to No. 1 in early 1999, and his championship Sunday in the Western & Southern Financial Masters was arguably the most impressive and unlikely of his career. Entering with a 4-6 record this year on hard courts, the 16th-seeded Moya didn't drop a set all week and stunned world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt 7-5, 7-6 (5) Sunday in the final.

        Moya is 20-2 with three tournament titles in the last five weeks, and is 3-0 against the world's top player since April.

        “It's been a really successful five weeks for me,” Moya said. “If you told me a month and a half ago what would happen, I'd say you were crazy. Now I think I can win every tournament.”

        It is just the second hard-court title in Moya's career; the other was a minor event (Long Island) in 1997.

Moya clenches his teeth after winning a point in the tiebreaker.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Moya is the first Spanish champion in this event's 104-year history. The only other winner seeded this low or unseeded was Miguel Olvera, who wasn't seeded when he claimed the 1960 tourney. Moya, ranked 17th in the world, is the lowest-ranked winner here since 1979, when Peter Fleming stood No. 22.

        “I knew my hard-court game wasn't bad,” Moya said. “It was a good year so far, but after this week it's excellent.”

        Moya jumps from No. 13 to No. 5 in the yearlong ATP Champions Race in a week. He'll likely be in the top 10 in the world rankings when they're released today.

        After Moya hit No. 1 in March 1999, he fell into decline because of a stress fracture in his back. He took off six months and then struggled with inconsistent results for 18 months, still stuck at No. 32 six months ago. But he is 43-12 since.

Moya hoists the trophy.
(Greg Ruffing photo)
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        “He's a former world No. 1, and when he's playing his best, he's top five in the world,” Hewitt said.

        Could he return to the top spot?

        “I didn't expect to be back in the top 10 so quick, and I don't want to think about No. 1 yet,” Moya said. “I just want to enjoy it.”

        Moya has won four tournaments this year; he had never before won more than two in a year. He beat Hewitt twice on clay courts this spring, both times in straight sets, and is now 4-2 in the series.

        Moya was far from perfect Sunday, committing 46 unforced errors to Hewitt's 31. But his forehand was still lethal.

Moya hugs coach Jofre Porta, right, and two friends.
(AP photo)
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        After winning the first set, though, Moya fell behind 5-2. Hewitt twice served for the set, and Moya saved two set points on his own serve at 3-5.

        At 5-5 in the tiebreak, Hewitt double-faulted to give Moya match point, and Moya struck a 124-mph service winner to win it.

        Hewitt had won the last 10 times he appeared in a tournament final, matching the fourth-longest streak in history. The record is 12, shared by Bjorn Borg (1979-80) and John McEnroe (1984-85).

        “I didn't expect to be back in the top 10 so quick, and I don't want to think about No. 1 yet.”

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