Tennis: Costa enjoys clay cruise

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The Independent Online
FOUR OF the quarter-finalists at the Samsung Open today are Spaniards, kept apart by a German, an Austrian, an Italian and a Frenchman. Britain provides afternoon tea.

The tournament's champions, Albert Costa (1996) and Felix Mantilla (1997), continue to prosper on the green clay at the West Hants Club here and may go on to duel in Sunday's final.

Mantilla, seeded No 3 to meet his compatriot Alberto Berasategui, the top seed, in the semi-finals, must first overcome the Austrian left-hander Stefan Koubek, ranked No 143 in the world. Berasategui, who has never played in Britain before, faces Germany's Marc-Kevin Goellner.

Costa, the No 2 seed, is due to play the Frenchman Arnaud Clement, ranked No 91. The fourth Spaniard, Alex Lopez-Moron, has to deal with an Italian named after the Holy Father, Vincenzo Santopadre (the Pope once took tennis lessons from Wojtek Fibak).

Costa, whose backhand is among the most effective in the game, put the shot to good use in his second round match yesterday, leaving the Dutchman Dennis Van Scheppingen scrambling for a foothold. Costa won, 6-3, 6-2.

Van Scheppingen made a promising start, breaking for 3-2, but Costa broke back and went 4-3 ahead. The Dutchman, serving at 40-0, lost the next five points and found himself on a roll. The next six games flashed by, and Costa led by a set and 4-0 before sealing the match.

Should Berasategui and Costa advance to meet in the final, there could be a race in the shower room. Both players have a superstition about using the same shower after every match while they are winning. "If he's using `my shower', I'll wait for him to come out," Costa said.

Eight Spaniards started the tournament, Mantilla assisting in a minor cull by defeating Jordi Burillo, who eliminated Sergi Bruguera in the opening round.

Mantilla (his name is the same as a woman's comb and he died his dark hair blond for a bet) lost to Tim Henman in the second round of the United States Open. He was also beaten by the Briton before he could raise a racket at the ATP Tour Championship in Hanover last November.

That story began at Bournemouth last year when Mantilla lost his mobile phone. This seemed a small consideration at the time, as he went on to defeat Carlos Moya in the final.

Mantilla was not among the eight qualifiers for Hanover where Thomas Muster, on stand by as an alternate, substituted for the injured Greg Rusedski against Moya during the round-robin.

A second injury, to Bruguera, left the organisers desperate for a replacement to complete the round-robin and Mantilla was the highest ranked player within reach.

The ATP Tour tried unsuccessfully to contact Mantilla and left a message on his mobile number - the one mislaid in Bournemouth. There was no response, so the ATP Tour turned to Henman instead. Henman dashed from the National Championships in Telford, improved his ranking by beating Kafelnikov, and flew back from Hanover to win the Nationals for the third time consecutively.

"I was in Barcelona training," Mantilla said. "I don't like to think that there was one person who didn't want me to go to Hanover. I am trying to forget what happened, because it was a bad experience."

It could have been worse. Mantilla might have lost out to someone wearing a kiss-me-quick hat.

Results, Digest, page 31