- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

PARIS Albert Costa can be excused for an unpolished victory speech.
He's a bit out of practice.
Mixing speeds and playing nearly impeccably for stretches, Costa beat fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-1, 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 yesterday in the French Open final for his first major championship and first title of any sort in nearly three years.
Costa never had been past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament in 25 previous tries. Only four men played in more majors before winning their first such title, topped by Goran Ivanisevic's 47 before his victory at Wimbledon in 2001.
"I was trying, trying, fighting every day," the 20th-seeded Costa said. "I was preparing to win this tournament. But I didn't believe in myself before."
As the match ended on Ferrero's fifth double fault, Costa dropped to a knee, then fell on his back with arms and legs spread, covering himself with clay.
"When I was there," Costa said, "I was thinking, 'Did I win?'"
Relishing the moment, he went into the guest box to kiss his crying parents and his fiancee, Cristina their wedding is Friday and lifted his 1-year-old twin daughters over his head. After switching to a clean shirt for the trophy presentation, Costa addressed the crowd in a rambling mix of Spanish, French and English.
"Forgive me. I'm a little nervous," Costa said. "It's much more difficult to speak than to play in the final."
Costa, who turns 27 this month, had few problems in what looked like it would be the most lopsided French Open championship ever.
He and Ferrero traded the first two games before rain halted play for 25 minutes. When they returned, Costa couldn't miss, and Ferrero was awful, looking nothing like the player who beat Andre Agassi and Marat Safin to reach his first major final.
With Ferrero out of synch he complained later about ankle, abdomen and leg injuries Costa pounced, stepping in from the baseline to whip strokes at severe angles that sent his opponent nearly into the courtside geraniums to retrieve balls.
Costa ran off 11 straight games, dropping just 16 points in the process, to claim the first two sets in 46 minutes. At that juncture, Costa had 13 errors to Ferrero's 26 and 13 winners to Ferrero's five.
It was "the best match of my life, for sure. I was playing unbelievable tennis," said Costa, whose 12 career titles all have come on clay. "I was a little surprised because in a final I was supposed to be nervous."
He last won a title Aug. 1, 1999, in Kitzbuhel, Austria a 65-tournament drought.
Yesterday Costa was strong from the baseline, won the point on 81 percent of his trips to the net and caught Ferrero off-guard with seven drop shots.
"I try, I try, I try, I try. But all the time he played so solid, without mistakes, and I couldn't play at my level," said Ferrero, who had a much harder time in the not-very-Paris-in-the-Springtime conditions: low 60s and swirling winds.
The 11th-seeded Ferrero, who lost to champion Gustavo Kuerten in the semifinals the past two years, was so out of sorts against Costa that he went to the wrong side of the court to start the third set.
But that, at least, was when Ferrero showed signs of getting back in the match. He smacked a backhand winner down the line to get to 40-30 by this time, even a game point was encouraging then unleashed an ace to win the game. Ferrero raised both arms in mock celebration, while spectators yelled and clapped rhythmically.
With his vaunted forehand finally clicking (half of his winners with that stroke came in the third set), Ferrero broke Costa in the next game on the way to taking the set.
Still, it was clear Ferrero wasn't in the frame of mind to excel. After one fault, he pounded a ball into the 10th row of the upper deck. Later in the same game, after flailing at a sitter and hitting it off the wall behind the opposite baseline, Ferrero leaned over the net as if peering down a well and shook his head.
The players reverted to form in the fourth set: Ferrero rushing and Costa reading his opponent's shots as if he were stealing signs.


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