Spaniards set to reign again

THE BOURNEMOUTH clay-court singles title will remain in Spain - Barcelona to be precise, in the home of either Felix Mantilla or Alberto Costa. The two previous winners of the Samsung Open meet in today's final at the West Hants Club.

Mantilla, who defeated his compatriot Carlos Moya in last year's final, eliminated Germany's Marc-Kevin Goellner in the semi-finals yesterday, 6-4, 6-2. Goellner, who has lived in London for five years, is the only non-Spaniard to play in the Samsung final. He lost to Costa in 1996.

Costa, the No 2 seed, defeated Vincenzo Santopadre, 7-6, 6-0, in the Italian's first appearance in an ATP Tour semi-final. The result releases Santopadre for alternative Sunday duties.

Mantilla, the No 3 seed, has lost his four previous matches against Costa, the first three on clay and the latest on a concrete court in Indian Wells, California, in March. "He has played better than me," Mantilla shrugged, finding it unnecessary to add that Costa has one of the finest backhands in the sport.

Santopadre stayed in contention with Costa until the first set tie-break, which the Spaniard took, 7-3. After that, there was no stopping his advance to the final.

Mantilla broke Goellner in the third game of each set. The Spaniard ended a spirited rally with a winning forehand down the line to unsettle his opponent in the opening set, and capitalised on Goellner's loss of concentration after a foot-fault at 1-1 in the second set.

Having largely coped well with Goellner's serve, Mantilla let fly with five consecutive aces, the fourth on a second serve to hold for 3-1 in the second set. "Serving like that was unbelievable for me," he said.

Mantilla's most difficult match was a three-set win against Austria's Stefan Koubek in the quarter-finals on Friday. The Spaniard received a code violation for coaching during the second set. "It was a mistake by the umpire," Mantilla said. "My coach [Jordi Vilaro] shouted 'vinga!', which is Catalan for 'come on!' and I just said I couldn't see the ball because the sun was in my eyes."

He will have to keep his eye on the ball today if he is to retain the title and collect the $54,000 (pounds 35,000) first prize.

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