Tennis: Corretja and Moya celebrate for Spain

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The Independent Online
IT was 15 years to the day since Yannick Noah's home triumph, but the cry of celebration at the French Open was "Ole!" The local boy, Cedric Pioline, possessed the strength of will but not of body to prevent Alex Corretja from guaranteeing an all-Spanish final.

So tomorrow it will be Carlos Moya, seeded No 12, versus Alex Corretja, seeded No 14, the second time in five years that Spain has taken over Roland Garros. In 1994, Sergi Bruguera defeated his compatriot Alberto Berasetgui in four sets.

Corretja defeated Pioline, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, the Frenchman's struggle to keep pace with his opponent becoming increasingly difficult after he had double-faulted to lose the second set.

Pioline had played two consecutive five-set matches in advancing to the last four and had spent an hour longer on the court than his opponent, even though it was Corretja who had contested the longest Grand Slam singles match ever recorded (5hr 31 min) in defeating the Argentinian Hernan Gumy, in the third round.

The Frenchman's reputation as one of the sport's bridesmaids is listed in 12 losing finals, including two defeats by Pete Sampras, at Wimbledon last year and the 1993 United States Open.

Yesterday's semi-final was Coretja's first in a Grand Slam championships. He is perhaps best remembered for his match against Sampras in the quarter- finals of the 1996 US Open. On that occasion he double-faulted on match point to the visibly ill Sampras, saying afterwards, "It was probably the best match of my career, and it is probably the worst one." Sampras went on to win the title.

Moya's skills with a tennis ball on the Centre Court at Roland Garros were much admired when he participated in an impromptu kick-about with three Spanish compatriots after hitting with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario prior to her semi-final victory against Lindsay Davenport on Thursday.

The 21-year-old from Majorca juggled with the ball and headed it over the net with the unselfconscious joy of a holidaymaker on one of his native beaches. Yesterday, racket in hand, he returned to the mecca of clay court tennis with his friend Felix Mantilla, from Barcelona, to duel for a place in tomorrow's French Open men's singles final.

"The last two days we had dinner together, but on the court we are not friends," said Mantilla. "You try the best for yourself."

Moya followed the philosophy to the letter, winning 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6- 2, after two hours and 42 minutes.

The crux came in the third set. Moya, 1-4 down, proceeded to win seven consecutive games, five of them for the loss of only five points, to take the set. "I just decided to take more risks on my forehand, and everything worked out," he said.

Moya trusts that his fortunes will continue to flourish tomorrow, when he contests his second Grand Slam singles final. He was defeated by Pete Sampras in straight sets at the 1997 Australian Open final, and that was the only only time he had advanced beyond the second round of any Grand Slam until he arrived at Roland Garros two weeks ago for his third crack at the French title.

"Everything was new for me in Australia," he said. "I think it is different now, because I am not going to the court as a loser, as I did there. Then everything was fine for me to be in the final. Here I want even more, and I am going to do my best to win the tournament. I know I have a good chance. I'm playing well right now. I'm going to try to take it."

Spanish men have won eight Grand Slam singles titles, Sergi Bruguera (2), Andres Gimeno and Manuel Santana (2) at the French, Santana at Wimbledon, and Santana and Manuel Orantes at the United States Open.

Moya is also close friends with Corretja, but the same rules apply. "When you get to the court, you fight like crazy. You try to step on him if necessary."