Coria should win tough final

Updated: June 4, 2004, 4:48 PM ET
By Malivai Washington | Special to ESPN.com

PARIS -- The great thing about having two players who have never won a major in the final, is that at the end of the day, a lifelong dream will be realized.

The dream of just reaching the final of a major came true for the first time on Friday for Guillermo Coria and Gaston Gaudio. It's even more special for them that it was at Roland Garros.

Unfortunately, there are two other guys, David Nalbandian and Tim Henman, who will have to wait for this dream for another year or another Grand Slam event.

In Henman's case, it's unlikely this opportunity will ever come around again at the French Open. He had a favorable draw this year and took full advantage of it. Whereas for Nalbandian, it's only a matter of time before he again finds himself in the semifinals of Roland Garros.

In the final on Sunday, you have two of the premier clay-court players in the world facing off for the ultimate prize for a clay-court player. These two grew up playing on red clay in Argentina and dreamt about this moment.

Prior to the tournament, Coria was one of my top picks to win the championship; Gaudio was not. Yet Gaudio handled the moment of his first Grand Slam semifinal impressively. He'll need to muster that type of courage and that type of performance for the final.

This match has the potential to be a great five-set thriller. We have two players with very similar styles. They're both trying to win the point from the baseline, both very quick around the court and they're both going to employ a lot of drop shots. Neither player is going to get a lot of free points with their serve. They'll each try to hit a lot from their forehand side.

Based on what I've seen the past several days, these guys are equally matched. This final will come down to things that have nothing to do with hitting a tennis ball. A match like this could come down to who gets the lucky bounce or net chord, who gets a good line call at the right time and, most important, who seizes the moment and plays the best tennis they need to produce to win.

The biggest challenge in tennis is to play at the top of your game at the most crucial moments. That is something that is very difficult -- if not impossible -- to teach. Either you have it or you don't. From what I've seen, Coria and Gaudio have it.

This final could be one of the great finals that we talk about for years to come. But give the edge to the man with the better clay-court record: Coria in five sets.

MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.

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