Tennis: Triumph for the durable Corretja

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ALEX CORRETJA and Felix Mantilla, two of a veritable Armada of Spanish clay-courters, contested the first hard-court final of their careers last night in a nation whose sand would provide enough cement to change the face of the Gulf.

Both raised the tone of the $1m Dubai Duty Free Open after a series of disappointing performances by bigger names in the draw, Corretja, the fourth seed, proving to have more energy in reserve than his sixth-seeded compatriot. He won, 7-6, 6-1, zooming through the first set tie-break 7-0 and sprinting clear in the second set after exchanging breaks of serve to lead 3-1. The fifth game was crucial, Corretja saving three break points to deny his opponent the chance to stay in touch.

It was Corretja's first visit to Dubai, and a cheque for pounds 90,000 accompanied the joy of winning his first title on rubberised concrete. The courts here are similar those at the United States Open, where Corretja reached the quarter-finals in 1996, narrowly losing to Pete Sampras in the most dramatic match of the championships.

Sampras was physically sick on that occasion, and Mantilla almost wobbled out of the semi-finals here with cramp in his match against South Africa's Wayne Ferreria on Saturday night.

Fears that Mantilla would be unable to recover in time to make a suitable challenge in the final were unfounded, however. He contributed fully to an exciting duel of baseline rallies spiced with breathtaking drop shots and profitable visits to the net.

Spectators were treated to a spectacular cameo during the sixth game of the opening set. Mantilla, chasing a ball to the back of the court, played a shot through his legs. Corretja, with perfect anticipation, met the return at the net and punched away a winning backhand volley.

The match was played in an excellent spirit, Mantilla encapsulating the mood among the 15 Spanish players in the world's top 100 by saying, "All of us are like one big family."