Tennis: Grass is looking greener for Moya

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THE DEMISE of the big names has given Carlos Moya the chance to establish himself as an outside contender for Wimbledon. The 22-year-old Spaniard today plays Sjeng Schalken in the quarter-finals of the Gerry Weber Open here, the latest step in a maturing process on grass that yesterday saw him beat David Prinosil 6-4, 6-4 to secure only his fifth win on the sport's oldest surface.

Moya is very much a new model Spaniard. While grass is by no means his favourite surface he is far removed from the "grass is for cows" brigade founded by the only previous Spaniard to have won Wimbledon, Manolo Santana in 1966.

Though raised on clay, Moya has always seen performances on all four recognised tennis surfaces as the key to being a complete player, and he has worked hard on Barcelona's hardcourts to broaden his horizons. Last year he came to Halle fresh from winning the French Open, admitting candidly: "There are up to 1,500 ranking points to be won on grass, so I'd be stupid not to try to win some of them."

His 70-minute victory over Prinosil suggests he should be put in the same category for Wimbledon as Yevgeny Kafelnikov - both have the potential to win, but whether they can compete on the big points against the players who excel on the surface is still doubtful.

The Mallorcan is also talking himself out of winning Wimbledon, though much of that may be kidology. "I'm not ready yet," he said, "maybe one day, but I'm still learning."

He has all the attributes of a grasscourt game. His big serve reached a personal best of 132mph on the point which gave him the first set, his returns were at times blistering - notably in the opening game when he broke Prinosil to 15 - though tempered with some subtle slicing, and his volleys were extremely sharp.

The problem was that in making only 41 per cent of his first serves he put immense pressure on his second, with which he did far too little, and he was grateful for 33 unforced errors from Prinosil.

Moya is now favourite for the title following the defeats of Richard Krajicek and Pat Rafter, and the withdrawal of Andre Agassi.

Results, Digest, page 27