Sombre mood fails to dampen Ferrero's spirit

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The Independent Online

The Monte Carlo Country Club, set on a hillside with a Mediterranean view along Avenue Princess Grace, at Roquebrune Cap Martin, just over the French border, is by tradition where the European clay court tennis season really begins.

The Monte Carlo Country Club, set on a hillside with a Mediterranean view along Avenue Princess Grace, at Roquebrune Cap Martin, just over the French border, is by tradition where the European clay court tennis season really begins.

And the tradition is continuing this week, even though the funeral of Prince Rainier of Monaco is due to take place next Friday and three months of mourning have been declared.

The sombre mood was matched by the weather yesterday as rain interrupted the opening day of the Monte Carlo Masters. But the rain did not prevent Guillermo Coria, the Argentinian defending champion, from getting off the mark with a 6-2, 7-5 win against Paul-Henri Mathieu, a French wildcard.

Nor did it dampen the spirit of Juan Carlos Ferrero. The Spaniard, the undisputed master of clay courts two years ago, has had such a frustrating time since then that any kind of win is a bonus. Yesterday Ferrero, handed a wildcard for the tournament to offset his world ranking of 69, was hugely relieved to open with a 6-4, 6-1 success against Ivo Karlovic.

Having been beaten by his 18-year-old compatriot Rafael Nadal in the first round in Valencia last week, Ferrero will be hoping his return to the Monte Carlo courts he dominated in 2002 and 2003 - the year he went on to win the French Open - will help to restore a modicum of self-belief in his game.

Should Ferrero overcome Jiri Novak, the Czech 16th seed in the second round, he may have to face the No 2 seed Marat Safin, the Australian Open champion. That would be a welcome challenge for Ferrero, who spent most of last season struggling for fitness.

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