Coria warms up for Paris by lifting title

Giving a sportsman a good name does not guarantee success, as British tennis discovered in the case of Stanley Matthews Jnr, son of the great footballer. But Oscar Coria seemed to know what he was doing when he christened his first-born Guillermo after Guillermo Vilas, the icon of Argentinian tennis.

Coria yesterday won the Monte Carlo Masters, the first solid step on the road to the French Open in Paris, defeating Rainer Schüttler, of Germany, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3. It was the 26th consecutive winning match Coria has won on clay since losing to Martin Verkerk in the semi-finals at Roland Garros last June.

The victory continued a proud tradition. Coria was only three months old in 1982 when Vilas won the second of his Monte Carlo singles titles, having also shared the prize with Jimmy Connors when the final was rained off in 1981. Coria was seven when Alberto Mancini last won the title for Argentina, frustrating Boris Becker in the 1989 final. Coria heard all about that first-hand from Mancini, who was his coach until January.

"It was mutual," said Coria, currently coached by another compatriot, Fabien Blenjino. "We decided to stop before we started to be cross with each other. We didn't want to fight. Alberto was very important to me. He taught me many things. The door was left open for us to maybe work again in the future."

The diminutive 22-year-old from Rufino has not had a smooth career so far. In 2001 he was banned for seven months after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone. But his deep ground strokes and fast feet have made him a strong contender for a major honour.

A year ago, Coria was defeated here by Juan Carlos Ferrero, of Spain, 6-2, 6-2, in a final reduced from five sets to three on a day of rain delays. Coria went on to win his first Masters Series title in Hamburg; Ferrero to win the French Open.

Earlier this month, a back injury caused by two kidney stones resulted in Coria retiring against Andy Roddick in the final of the last Masters Series event, the Nasdaq-100 Open, in Key Biscayne, Florida.

Yesterday, the third-seeded Coria overcame an abdominal strain in defeating Schüttler, the fourth seed, whose endeavours on his 28th birthday were not helped by three blistered fingers.

The points were more closely contested than the a straight-sets victory might suggest, though Coria did not look in danger until the third set, in which he had to save three breakpoints in the opening game and one in the fifth before Schüttler double-faulted to lose serve for 2-4.

German players do not have a good record on the courts here. Schüttler was attempting to become the first to win the title since Baron Gottfried von Cramm in 1938. Becker lost three finals: to Mancini, Sergi Bruguera and Thomas Muster.

Tim Henman, who lost to Schüttler in the singles quarter-finals finals on Friday, swept to his second doubles title here yesterday. The British No1 and his Serbian partner, Nenad Zimonjic, defeated the Argentinians Gaston Etlis and Martin Rodriguez, 7-5, 6-2. Henman also won the doubles in 1999, partnered by the Frenchman, Olivier Delaitre.

Henman, who spent a total of 13 hours on the court last week playing singles and doubles, felt no pain yesterday in his right shoulder, which was sore after the Schüttler match. "My shoulder feels great," Henman said. "The doubles on Thursday night really did me, but my match on Friday was not as strenuous as on the other days, and I didn't have to play doubles on Saturday. On Saturday morning it felt back to normal."

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