Versatile Ferrero shows real class to reach last eight

The reign of Spain theme was underlined yesterday when Benito Perez-Barbadillo, the ATP Tour's PR director for Europe, arrived at the Monte Carlo Open wearing a Real Madrid shirt.

Three clubs in the semi-finals of the European Cup, Seve Ballesteros's renaissance at Sunningdale, where would it all end? With a Spaniard winning Wimbledon?

Alex Corretja, a Barcelona supporter, smiled at the idea. "It is easier for Real Madrid to win at Old Trafford than a Spanish guy to win Wimbledon," he said, adding that the Majorcan Carlos Moya "has the potential, but needs to get back to his best".

With a Davis Cup semi-final at home on clay against the United States due to be played immediately after Wimbledon in July, Correjta confirmed that the Spanish players have talked about giving the All England Club's grass a miss. "It depends," he said. "If we are really successful in the clay court tournaments, then we have to see how tired we are, if we need a rest, if it is worth it to go to Wimbledon."

One Spaniard looking forward to Wimbledon, "and playing on real grass for the first time", is the 20-year-old Juan Carlos Ferrero, who is "working hard to be remembered as one of the best players in history".

Ferrero, who received the ATP Tour's Newcomer of the Year Award on Tuesday, is rated with Australia's Lleyton Hewitt as players most likely to succeed. Ferrero overcame Corretja to win his first title in Majorca last year, and two weeks ago defeated Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov in a Davis Cup tie in Malaga.

Yesterday Ferrero advanced to the quarter-finals of his first Monte Carlo Open after defeating Italy's Franco Squillari, 6-2, 6-4, and had his photograph taken in Perez-Barbadillo's Real Madrid shirt.

"I watched the match in Manchester quietly in my hotel room," Ferrero said, "because if I watch it with the Catalans I get nervous and excited. I am happy Madrid won. I am from near Valencia, so I was happy to see that Valencia won, too. I hope both will go to the final and that Valencia will beat Barcelona [in the semis]."

Ferrero may find himself nervous and excited in Catalan company on Saturday if he and Corretja progress to the semi-finals. Corretja, the No 9 seed, continued his recent revival yesterday with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Juan Ignacio Chela, a 20-year-old Argentinian qualifier who eliminated Britain's Tim Henman in the second round.

Corretja has no doubts about Ferrero's potential. "I am completely impressed with this guy," he said. "He is an unbelievably good player. The good thing is that he is even a better guy than a player, and that is really important.

"He is going to be in the top 10 soon. He is going to take the main step by winning one of these [Masters Series] tournaments. I hope it is not going to be this week, because maybe I will see him in the semi-finals.

"He hits the ball so hard and is really aggressive. He is just 20 years old, so he has still many things to learn, and he needs to improve his serve. He will do it. And he is going to be good on every surface. That is really good these days.

"We can count on him for Davis Cup as well. He played unbelievable tennis against Kafelnikov the first time he played. When people talk about Davis Cup, especially in small countries, they talk about taboo things, like every place there is pressure. The guy didn't show any nerves or anything."

As a boy, Ferrero played football and tennis. "Little by little I dedicated myself more to tennis," he said. "I was always interested in tennis players and not so much by soccer players. Of course, I followed Real Madrid, but I always wanted to be a tennis player."

Although Ferrero was not tempted by bullfighting, admirers of his footwork may care to know about a tradition he enjoys. "In my village there is a fiesta, and they leave the bulls free in the streets and we have to run, and I like a lot to run."

Tim Henman's defence of the doubles title he won here last year with the Frenchman Olivier Delaitre ended in the second round when they were defeated by the Dutchman Paul Haarhuis and Australia's Sandon Stolle, 6-3, 7-6.


Third round

Alex Corretja (9), Spain, def. Juan Ignacio Chela, Argentina, 6-3, 6-3. Juan Carlos Ferrero, Spain, def. Franco Squillari, Argentina, 6-2, 6-4. Karim Alami, Morocco, def. Christian Ruud, Norway, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-2). Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia, def. Arnaud Clement, France, 6-4, 7-5. Karol Kucera, Slovakia, def. Sjeng Schalken, Netherlands, 6-2, 6-4. Cedric Pioline (8), France, def. Slava Dosedel, Czech Republic, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. Gaston Gaudio, Argentina, def. Julien Boutter, France, 6-3, 7-5. Albert Costa (12), Spain, def. Richard Krajicek, Netherlands,7-6 (7-3), 6-3