Thursday, June 5, 2003

Nothing new for Costa - five sets and the victory

The Associated Press

PARIS - Albert Costa was as cool as his rackets in the courtside fridge after double-faulting to hand Tommy Robredo a two-set lead in the French Open quarterfinals.

Just 1 1/2 weeks ago, Costa's 10-year record didn't include a single comeback from such a deficit. Now he does it routinely.

With a key midmatch strategy shift, Costa overcame fellow Spaniard Robredo 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 Wednesday, making him the second player to win three matches at a Grand Slam tournament after trailing 2-0 in sets.

"Every day I surprise myself," Costa said. "I promise it's not a strategy. When I am two sets down, I still think I can win the match. I don't know why."

His semifinal opponent Friday will be a friend, countryman and the man he beat in the 2002 final: Juan Carlos Ferrero. The third-seeded Ferrero wasted five match points before eliminating No. 19 Fernando Gonzalez 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4. The other semifinal is Guillermo Coria vs. Martin Verkerk.

Helped by Gonzalez's 15 double-faults, Ferrero joined Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier as the only men to reach the French Open semifinals four consecutive years.

The women's semifinals are today, with Serena Williams facing Justine Henin-Hardenne, and Kim Clijsters playing Nadia Petrova. Williams is bidding for a fifth straight major title.

Of the final four men, only Costa owns a major championship - and last year's French Open was his lone title in the past 88 tournaments.

Costa "found his confidence here," Ferrero said. "But physically, I'm not sure he'll be that fresh, because nobody can be after playing that many sets."

The tally: 23 sets and 227 games totaling 18 hours, 32 minutes.

Costa rallied from two sets down against Sergio Roitman in the first round and Nicolas Lapentti in the third, and also went five sets against Radek Stepanek. The only other player with as many such comebacks at a major was Nicolas Escude (1998 Australian Open).

"It's worse when you've never won, because you are very anxious. Sometimes you can do something strange on the court and lose your mind a little bit," Costa said. "Now when I'm on the court, I think: 'Well, I still won once, so don't feel pressure, don't get nervous, don't get anxious.' "

Robredo, 21, eliminated two Grand Slam champions - Lleyton Hewitt and Gustavo Kuerten - en route to his first major quarterfinal. He appeared poised to make it three Wednesday, lacing groundstroke winners for two sets. And then Costa altered the match's complexion. He stopped swatting strokes from 6 feet behind the baseline and began pushing forward.

"He saw that I was changing my tactics. He began to doubt," said Costa, seeded ninth. "Then I just managed to catch up with him, and that was it."

As his edge slipped away, Robredo didn't hide the frustration. He threw his racket at the net, to the ground, and once sent it 10 feet end over end in the air

"There are different ways of losing," Robredo said. "I lost in the best possible manner - in five sets and playing very good tennis."

Costa has a way of making opponents feel that way.

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