Nadal fights fatigue and blisters to beat Coria in five-hour epic

It started in brilliant sunshine and finished under floodlights. And after five hours 14 minutes ­ the longest match ever recorded in the Eternal City ­ the 18-year-old Rafael Nadal won his second consecutive Masters Series title.

It started in brilliant sunshine and finished under floodlights. And after five hours 14 minutes ­ the longest match ever recorded in the Eternal City ­ the 18-year-old Rafael Nadal won his second consecutive Masters Series title.

The Spaniard repeated his Monte Carlo Masters victory against Guillermo Coria of Argentina, this time securing a fifth-set tie-break, 8-6, on his fourth match point to triumph, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6.

Nadal has won 17 matches in 27 days since losing to Igor Andreev, of Russia, in Valencia. Nadal has been drawn to play Andreev in the first round of this week's Hamburg Masters, but the meeting is unlikely to take place. "I will see how I feel tomorrow," Nadal said.

A blistered index finger of his racket hand would be enough to persuade Nadal's advisers to announce his withdrawal, even if he had the physical and mental strength to walk on the German court.

Enough is enough, particularly as Nadal is due to play his first French Open ­ and as one of the favourites ­ a fortnight today. After defeating his compatriot David Ferrer in a hard-hitting semi-final on Saturday, Nadal said he was physically and mentally tired from playing too many matches. How he managed to hold body and soul together to prevail in yesterday's epic, only he can tell.

When Nadal edged the opening set, it was hard to tell if he would be able to sustain the effort. His intelligent use of a variety of shots, offering Coria less all-out pace on which to feed, was working. None the less, Coria's speed and court craft enabled him to work his way into the match. As ever, he made excellent use of the drop-shot.

Nadal squeezed a two sets to one lead. He won the opening four games of the third set, only to be broken serving for the set at 5-2. In the ninth game, Coria saved six set points and battled through 11 deuces before hitting a forehand long on the seventh set point.

The Spaniard had his left hand retaped after slipping 2-0 down in the fourth set. He recovered to 2-2 before immediately being broken, and although he had a break point with Coria serving at 5-4, the Argentine converted his second set point, Nadal missing a backhand.

The final set was a classic. After losing the opening three games, Nadal recovered to 3-3, and had his first match point with Coria serving at 6-5 down. The Argentine's forehand saved him. Nadal took a 5-1 lead in the tie-break, only to concede two mini-breaks serving for the match at
5-2. He missed a forehand on his second match point, at 6-4, and double-faulted on the third before Coria hit a volley long on the fourth.

Coria went into the final with a rebuke from the 35-year-old Andre Agassi, whom he defeated on Saturday, 7-5, 7-6. Agassi accused Coria of "unacceptable behaviour" over a disputed call in the opening set. "He shook his finger before the ball bounced, then he circled [the mark] as if it was obviously out, and starts walking back," Agassi complained.

"I understand making a mistake but I don't understand suggesting, when it's that close, that it's clearly out. It was an unreasonable response and one I didn't appreciate at all."

The crowd jeered Coria, who said afterwards: "It's normal, because he is very famous here and many people are his fans." Happily, yesterday's contest was free of controversy, and all about great endeavour.

In Berlin, the former world No 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne took her third successive clay court title with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory over the sixth seed Nadia Petrova at the German Open yesterday.

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