Final lift for Coria's brilliant career

Guillermo Coria, with his Artful Dodger face, bears an uncanny resemblance to Dennis Wise, who is due to pit his managerial wits on behalf of Millwall against Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in the FA Cup final on 22 May.

On that day, Coria, the Argentinian world No 4, will be fine-tuning for the men's singles at the French Open in Paris, which starts the following Monday, where he will be a far bigger favourite to triumph than Wise in Cardiff.

Since losing to the Dutch firefly Martin Verkerk in the semi-finals at Roland Garros last year, Coria has been unbeaten in 25 consecutive clay-court matches. With his latest win, here yesterday against the powerful Russian Marat Safin, 6-4 1-6 6-3, Coria advanced to his second successive final at the Monte Carlo Masters.

The unseeded Safin acknowledged that Coria played well but wished the match had been over the best of five sets, giving him "time to correct the mistakes and come back". Having played Coria for the first time, Safin said: "He's a good player, but he didn't get a lot of free points. He has to work. Over five sets, I would be the favourite, but I'll catch him another time."

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

The weather has been kind this time, so Coria can look forward to a best-of-five-sets final today against Rainer Schüttler of Germany, who defeated Carlos Moya of Spain, the winner here in 1998, 7-6 6-4. Schüttler, the fourth seed, beat Britain's Tim Henman in straight sets in the quarter-final on Friday. He is the first German to reach the final since Boris Becker in 1995. No German has won the title in the open era.

Moya, who defeated Henman in the semi-finals in 2002, lost the first-set tie-break 7-5. It was the first shoot-out he had lost after winning 15 in a row since last year's tournament in Vienna.

Having let Coria escape from 0-40 in the second game, Safin immediately lost his serve. He could not make an impression on the match until Coria double-faulted to 15-40 and then missed a forehand in the second game of the second set. Coria double-faulted again to present Safin with another break point in the sixth game, and the Russian converted.

Although there was more uncertainty about the outcome of the deciding set, Safin's impetuosity cost him, and Coria held two break- points at 2-1 before capitalising on a sloppy service game at 4-3 to break to love before serving out the match.

In Coria's last Masters event, the Nasdaq-100 Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, last month, back pain forced him to retire in the fourth set of the final against the American Andy Roddick. It transpired that he had two kidney stones. "I was lucky it was just that," Coria said. He looked in good shape yesterday.

Henman advanced to the doubles final when he and his Serbian partner, Nenad Zimonjic, beat the Czech pair Martin Damm and Cyril Suk, 6-4 7-6. They meet the Argentinians Gaston Etlis and Martin Rodriguez.

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