- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2001

It was a clash of good and bad, the crowd favorite against the villain, the mild-mannered baseliner against the hot-headed free swinger.

Last night's third-round match between Alex Corretja and Marcelo Rios had obvious undertones. And while a majority of the Stadium Court crowd pulled for Corretja, by match's end they had no choice but to salute Rios' stunning prowess at Rock Creek Park.

Rios, the former No. 1 player in the world, looked magnificent in dispatching defending Legg Mason Tennis Classic champion and No. 2 seed Corretja 7-6 (2), 6-3. The Chilean is playing his first hardcourt tournament of the summer but hardly looks it.

"I was playing good, with a lot of confidence," Rios said. "The way I'm playing … there's no doubt I can do good and maybe win the tournament."

Top-seeded Andre Agassi also advanced to the quarterfinals with a straight-sets victory over Fernando Vicente.

However, some of his fellow high seeds were not so fortunate. No. 3 Tommy Haas lost to 16th-seeded Jerome Golmard 7-5, 6-2, and No. 9 Andy Roddick knocked out No. 5 Dominik Hrbaty 6-2, 7-5. Roddick will face Rios today in the quarterfinals.

Three years ago, a Rios vs. Corretja match would have featured the Nos. 2 and 3 players on the ATP tour, respectively. Corretja has dropped only a few spots, but Rios has fallen into the 60s as injuries and a new baby in his family have limited his time on tour.

Rios had surgery June 18 to repair ligament damage in his left ankle, and his wife gave birth to their first child June 26. Rios just began practicing again, but if last night is any indication, he is back, ripping groundstrokes and blazing serves with abandon.

"I should have tried to slow down the game," Corretja said, "but I couldn't because he was playing fast and serving well and returning deep. He played really good tennis."

The match pitted two polar opposites in character and style: Corretja, a crowd favorite who is recognized as one of the most amicable players on tour, against Rios, known as a surly player with an incendiary temper. Corretja often wins matches with his consistent play and tireless patience; Rios is an aggressive hard hitter who doesn't hesitate to go for his shots.

There has never been much doubt as to Rios' raw talent; the question has been whether he could keep things together mentally. As Corretja said, "He's weird. He might go [today] and just tank [the match]. Or he could go and beat Roddick like [6-3, 6-2]."

The wily Rios doesn't disagree with his reputation and doesn't try to shed it either.

"Everybody's different," Rios said. "That's the way I was born; that's my personality. It's not that I want to be the bad guy or want to be different. That's the way I am."

After match point, Rios offered nothing more than a slight pump of his fist before going to the net to shake Corretja's hand. He then extended a wave to the appreciative crowd.

In contrast to Rios, Corretja's body language seemed to convey just how tough a match Rios was giving him. On several occasions after Rios won points, Corretja slumped and looked disheartened. When he was broken in the sixth game of the second set, Corretja closed his eyes and tipped his head toward the sky, aware his end was near.

In the first-set tiebreaker, Corretja did not win a single point on his serve and in the second set, Rios broke him twice and took him to deuce in a third game. Corretja managed to win 56 percent of the points on his serve and got less than half of his first serves in. It was a struggle for him all afternoon long.

"I was feeling well on the court and hitting the ball well, and I still lost," Corretja said. "I don't say that many times."

After his loss, Corretja said he was looking forward to trying to win the doubles tournament with partner Nicolas Lapentti, but Lapentti pulled out of their match last night because of a right elbow injury.

Comcast Sports will televise today's 1 p.m. quarterfinal match, tomorrow's semifinals at 1 and 7 p.m., and Sunday's final at 4 p.m. As of 11 p.m. last night, today's schedule had not been released.

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