Tennis: Brave Mantilla limps into final

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A LARGELY disappointing week at the Dubai Duty Free Open was salvaged in heroic fashion last night by the Spaniard Felix Mantilla, who guaranteed that there would be a Spanish champion by defeating Wayne Ferreira, the 1995 winner, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4. In the final, he will meet his compatriot Alex Corretja, who beat Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, the top seed, 6-3, 6- 3.

Big names had packed their bags and left the Gulf in a procession from day one: Goran Ivanisevic, Marcelo Rios, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Boris Becker after damaging an abdominal muscle. Left with a sparse field, the tournament was then delayed by rain which also damaged the centre court.

Mantilla could not make amends in terms of his reputation but his courage was applauded by an appreciative crowd at the semi-finals. Cramp in the legs had the 23-year-old Spaniard screaming in pain from midway through the final set, but Ferreira seemed reluctant to take advantage by attacking the net with greater consistency and eventually paid the price.

The 26-year-old South African had been pleased with the quality of his strokes during the week, but is in desperate need of the confidence a tournament success would bring. At the Australian Open, for example, Ferreira lost to Bjorkman after leading by two sets and a break.

Although Mantilla, the sixth seed, dominated the majority of points early in the opening set, Ferreira showed signs of revitalised belief, first by recovering from 2-5 to 5-5, and then ensuring that the subsequent tie- break was one for the archives. Ferreira lost the first six points, but then unnerved his opponent by saving the six set points and creating two set points of his own. Mantilla emerged victorious in the shoot-out when Ferreira misjudged a backhand deep to the corner of the court.

That was it, Mantilla had taken the advantage 12-10. The second set also appeared to be going the Spaniard's way when he broke in the opening game and led 2-0. Again Ferreira came back, this time with more success finding the decisive shots to level the match.

The final set appeared to be drifting towards the South African when Mantilla called for the trainer and took an injury time-out after the opening game. He resumed after a good deal of massage to his right thigh and managed to break for 2-1. It was soon evident that the pain had returned when he was broken in the next game, cutting an almost pathetic figure as he hobbled about the court attempting to retrieve Ferreira's shots. Even in this condition, Mantilla saved four break points only to double fault on the fifth.

Rather than utilising his skills as a serve and volleyer to the full, Ferreira engaged in baseline rallying, frequently directing his shots within range of his opponent's racket. Mantilla's aching legs were saved in this fashion and he eventually managed to break for 3-2. Cheered by the crowd he not only managed to hang on but frequently hit the more impressive shots, winningafter two hours and 20 minutes.