Corretja enjoys revenge

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Alex Corretja is probably best known for the sympathetic courtside manner he displayed when Pete Sampras was physically sick during their quarter- final at last year's United States Open. Corretja had a match point in a fifth-set tie-break, but the American recovered and successfully defended his title.

The Spaniard's sportsmanship was recognised with a presentation at the ATP Tour gala in March, since when he has rewarded himself with an impressive run through the clay court season. Yesterday, Corretja won the Italian Open, his most prestigious title to date, collecting $325,000 (pounds 240,000) after defeating Marcelo Rios, the talented young Chilean, 7-5, 7-5, 6- 3 in the final.

Three weeks ago, Rios defeated Corretja in straight sets in the final of the Monte Carlo Open. The Chilean also dominated their previous meeting in Rome, eliminating Corretja in the first round of last May's championships. But yesterday it was the 23-year-old from Barcelona who proved to have the smarter shot selection and stronger mental capacity.

Although the contest stretched to two hours and 23 minutes, both players acknowledged that the crux of it came as early as the third game of the opening set, with Rios leading, 2-0, and Corretja serving.

The mini-match within the match lasted 18 minutes and comprised 24 points. There were nine deuces, and Corretja managed to hold serve on his eighth game point, having saved two break points.

In a sense, the Spaniard invited problems by twice double-faulting after creating his first game point at 40-30 - although it transpired that the scramble which followed worked in Corretja's favour.

A game that began with Corretja desperate to halt his opponent's flow of points ended with Rios feeling frustrated and doubting himself. After Corretja finally hit the winning smash, Rios was counting the errors that had lost him so many lengthy rallies.

"If I had won that game I think I would have won the set and then maybe the match," the Chilean said. "He didn't kill me with winners. He put a lot of balls in, and I made many misses, and that was [the story of] the match."

Rattled by the Spaniard's resilience, Rios quickly became a far different proposition from the fierce competitor who outlasted Jim Courier in the quarter-finals.

Betraying an ominous lack of confidence, Rios salvaged only one point when broken for 2-2. Corretja promptly held to love, and though the rallies continued to flourish, the Spaniard seemed too keenly aware that his opponent was rarely far from an error.

Rios must have been wondering if the 10,000 crowd at the Foro Italico had finally lost their minds after a week of intense heat, judging by the whistles, jeers and laughter which greeted a PA announcement during a changeover, with Corretja leading 5-4. The plea was for "the owner of a yellow Ferrari" to go and turn his alarm off.

The response brought some light relief to the proceedings, though not on the Chilean's side of the net. There was almost a touch of resignation in the backhand he misdirected wide to lose the set.

Encouraged by an ace with which he saved a break point to prevent Corretja from taking a 2-0 lead in the second set, Rios prospered when the Spaniard mis-hit a forehand to be broken for 1-2. Corretja was not as impressed as the spectators, breaking back for 2-2. "At one set down, he didn't believe in himself," Corretja said. "That's why I broke him."

The Spaniard guessed right. Rios did not have the conviction needed to level the match, even after he served for the set after breaking for 5- 4. A loose forehand into the net from a service return cost him the chance, and a netted backhand in the 12th game compounded his misery.

"He beat me three weeks ago, but I thought today was my day," Corretja said. "I was mentally stronger, and he was tired."

The crowd sensed this, too, attempting to rouse Rios when the Chilean met their approval with a promising shot, but quick to whistle and jeer on the numerous occasions he failed to deliver. Three consecutive break of serve decided the final set, Rios staging a brief recovery from 1-3, only to be broken against for 2-4.

Greg Rusedski failed to qualify for the clay court tournament in St Polton, Austria, which starts today. The British No 2 lost to Sweden's Tomas Nydahl in the final qualifying round. Tim Henman, the British No 1, plays Sheng Schalken, of the Netherlands, in the main draw.