Coria falls to cramp as Gaudio wins epic

Tim Henman deserves further thanks today for his massive contribution to the French Open. Not only did he take British tennis on its most amazing journey on red clay for decades, but he also drained Guillermo Coria enough in the semi-finals to help make yesterday's final a magnificent climax when it seemed destined to be as one-sided as the women's all-Russian final on Saturday.

Tim Henman deserves further thanks today for his massive contribution to the French Open. Not only did he take British tennis on its most amazing journey on red clay for decades, but he also drained Guillermo Coria enough in the semi-finals to help make yesterday's final a magnificent climax when it seemed destined to be as one-sided as the women's all-Russian final on Saturday.

Gaston Gaudio turned out to be the Argentinian who brought the traffic to a halt in Buenos Aires after saving two match points and defeating his compatriot, 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6, after three hours and 31 minutes. The 22-year-old Coria was dancing away with the match for two sets, dazzling Gaudio and the crowd with his metronomic groundstrokes and clever lobs, drop-shots and - low and behold - volleys Henman would have been proud to call his own.

When the match arrived at the fifth game of the third set, however, a dramatic transformation took place. Coria lost his serve for the second time, and although he broke back immediately, the first Mexican wave was lapping all around him. The spectators sensed a contest rather than a massacre.

What the crowd did not realise when Coria was broken from 40-0 up for 4-5 and Gaudio then served out the set to love, was that the third-seeded Coria's legs were beginning to cramp. We are entitled to suppose that competing against Henman's attacking style for four sets took a fair amount of energy. After all, Coria had not dropped a set until he played the British No 1. But the speed of Coria's movements as he covered the court, anticipating Gaudio's shots and often hitting winners on the run, was what really took a toll.

After losing to Coria in the quarter-finals here last year, Andre Agassi said he was amazed by the Argentinian's speed. "He's got great wheels," Agassi said. At the end of the third set yesterday, the wheels began to come off.

Coria took a medical time-out at 1-1 in the fourth set and, even as his legs and thighs were being massaged, there were fears that this would be another of those times when he was unable to go the distance. That was the case when Coria retired in the opening game of the fourth set of the Nasdaq-100 Open final in March, complaining of back pains. He was found to have kidney stones.

Although Coria came off his chair to continue the fourth set, his condition was so bad that he could hardly move about the court. He was simply buying time in the hope that the aches and pains would ease. To do this he had to sacrifice the set and put up with whistles and jeers from spectators who did not realise the agony he must have been in. Nerves may have contributed to Coria's physical distress, but his determination remains strong. As a result the match continued into the most memorable fifth set in a men's final here for years.

Gaudio, reminiscent of Ivan Lendl facing the cramping Michael Chang here in 1989, at first seemed ill at ease with the situation and started to miss his serve. Two double faults in the opening game led to his handing the initiative to his opponent.

Gaudio's loss of serve proved to be the first of nine breaks in the deciding set. Coria lost a second game to love, then broke for 2-1, playing with restored vigour. He went on to lead 4-2, but was unable to shake Gaudio's resolve, and when Coria found himself at 4-4 the impetus seemed to be back with his 25-year-old opponent.

By now the duel was intense and passionate, with the crowd shouting for their favourite. Coria broke for 5-4, and spectators held their breath for an unlikely conclusion to an extraordinary afternoon. Their anticipation was either heightened or dimmed when Coria lost his serve to love when serving for the match for the first time. But then it was Gaudio's turn to lose his nerve at 5-5, and Coria was serving for the match. He created two clear glimpses of the trophy, only to hit a backhand drive wide to end a rally on the first match point, and then to fail to keep a forehand in play on his second opportunity.

Gaudio held for 7-6, and allowed Coria only one more point before converting his first match point with a backhand drive. "This is like a movie for me," Gaudio said. "I don't know how I won. I can't believe it."

Coria, who was banned for seven months in December 2001 after testing positive for nandrolone, said: "After what happened to me because of doping, I was dreaming of being in this situation. I wanted to have revenge against those who gave me those contaminated vitamins. I came here thinking it was 'the' opporunity to demonstrate to the people who judge me what I was able to do and keep them quiet. But my body let me down and my nerves let me down.

"If I was used to used to taking vitamins and supplements, I might not have had this problem. But I prefer to live what I lived on the court today and tonot be concerned to know whether these supplements are considered as doping or not."

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