Ferrero and Coria adjust to challenge set by grass

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The Independent Online

It was probably the shortest exchange at any post-match press conference at this year's championships. "You - fourth round," the questioner pointed out in surprise to Guillermo Coria after his five-sets victory over Jurgen Melzer on Saturday. The No 15 seed, speaking in English for the only time, had a one-word answer: "Unbelievable."

It was probably the shortest exchange at any post-match press conference at this year's championships. "You - fourth round," the questioner pointed out in surprise to Guillermo Coria after his five-sets victory over Jurgen Melzer on Saturday. The No 15 seed, speaking in English for the only time, had a one-word answer: "Unbelievable."

The transition to grass is always a huge challenge for slow-court specialists like Coria, who until this year had never gone beyond the second round at Wimbledon. Yet here he is in the last 16 alongside Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero, who stood alongside the Argentinian at the helm of clay-court tennis until Rafael Nadal pulled on his pirata shorts and stormed their ship.

Today's fourth-round matches offer an intriguing contrast of styles as Coria and Ferrero take on, respectively, Andy Roddick and Roger Federer, the top two seeds and last year's finalists. Not so long ago the results would have been virtually a foregone conclusion, but a number of factors have helped to smudge the demarcation lines that used to be painted so boldly across the modern game.

Tim Henman is among those who have lamented Wimbledon's preference for ryegrass, which has slowed the courts here, while the athleticism of the current generation has made it more difficult for serve-and-volley men to put the ball away. The end result is that many of the best grass-court players prefer to play from the back of the court, which is the natural domain of the clay-court specialist.

Adapting to the surface is still a challenge; Nadal, for one, did not appear able to get his head round the idea that you cannot slide into your shots here. However, Ferrero, who kept coming to Wimbledon through the years when some of his fellow Spanish clay-courters stayed away, and Coria have shown a determination to develop their game on grass.

French Open champion in 2003 and runner-up at the US Open in the same year, Ferrero is trying to work his way back up from his current world ranking of 31 after suffering crises of fitness and confidence last year. He took heart from his performances earlier this month on grass at Halle, where he reached the quarter-finals, and from his form here two years ago, when he also reached the last 16.

Ferrero played beautifully in the latter stages of his 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Germany's Florian Mayer on Saturday. What he lacks in power, the 25-year-old Spaniard makes up for in the guile and precision of his ground strokes: if he were to play in the Real Madrid team which he supports, he would be a Zinedine Zidane rather than a Ronaldo.

Even though his serve lacks weight, Ferrero can still impart clever disguise, as Mayer discovered when he was aced at 100mph, snail's pace among the modern men. Quick off the mark and exceptionally light on his feet (his nickname is "Mosquito"), Ferrero left Mayer gazing in shock and admiration when he chased down one apparent lost cause and hit a deft passing shot down the line.

Although Ferrero has won three of his eight previous matches against Federer, he has lost five of the last six and acknowledges the Wimbledon champion's supremacy on grass. "He's playing so well on this surface, but I'm playing well here and I'll go into the match well motivated," Ferrero said. "The last time I played him [in Dubai in February] I had two match points on a hard court. If I play well I think I have a chance to put up a good fight."

Coria, the world No 18, has lost all four of his matches against Roddick, though the last three have been on hard courts. "I'd love to play him at Roland Garros or on a clay court anywhere, but I always seem to meet him on faster courts," Coria said after coming from two sets down to beat Austria's Melzer 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 on Saturday. The match lasted just under three hours, but was still nearly two and a half hours shorter than the five-set Rome Masters final which Coria lost to Nadal last month.

Having also needed five sets to beat Xavier Malisse in the previous round here, the 23-year-old Argentinian said that he was being rewarded for the many hours of work he had put into preparing for Wimbledon.

Asked why he cared so much about his results on grass when many other Latin American players make little effort, Coria replied: "Because I want to be a complete player. This is the most difficult surface for me, but the more matches you play the better you feel.

"Fortunately I'm not falling as often as I used to in my first years here. And playing Andy Roddick will show me what my level is on this surface."

Verdict of the former greats

* MARTINA NAVRATILOVA 'I'll make a prediction about Andy Murray right now: he'll be in the top 50 of the men's rankings before the US Open.'

* JOHN McENROE 'Putting aside his youth and inexperience for a second, I thought his defeat to David Nalbandian was disappointing. It falls too much into the typical British drama: oh, so close and yet so far. I would have to score him an A-minus for what he's done so far.'

* JIMMY CONNORS 'His game has gone to a different level, but now he has to remember what he has done to get to this level, and understand what it will take to get to the next level and be able to compete against these players week after week. '

* TRACY AUSTIN 'It is good to see that Murray has already realised that crowds want to see people with charisma, to see more than just the tennis.'

Teen talent to rival Murray

RAFAEL NADAL

* On his 19th birthday, the strapping clay-court prince from Majorca beat world No 1 Roger Federer in the French Open semis and won the title at his first attempt. Has won seven ATP titles and beat Andy Roddick in last year's Davis Cup final.

RICHARD GASQUET

* The French 19-year-old won his first ATP title at Nottingham just before Wimbledon and will play David Nalbandian in the fourth round today. In April's Monte Carlo Masters, Gasquet beat Federer in the quarter-finals after saving a match point.

GAEL MONFILS

* Winner of three of the four Grand Slam junior titles last year, the French 18-year-old beat the 22nd seed, Dominik Hrbaty, in the second round at Wimbledon, his first win against a seed at a Grand Slam. Lost to Mario Ancic in third round.

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