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Moya the mentor vs. Nadal the student in quarters

6/4/2007 - Tennis

PARIS -- Mallorca, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, is a sun-splashed tourist destination off the coast of Spain.

It is an island of fewer than one million people, yet it has produced three of the last nine French Open men's singles champions. In a week's time, the number could well be four.

This is not a fortuitous coincidence, a random accident of nature.

Carlos Moya, who was born in the capital of Palma, was the 1998 champion. In part, because he has been a distinctly generous mentor and close friend to the Mancor-born Rafael Nadal, Moya has seen Nadal win the last two titles at Roland Garros.

On Monday, both Mallorcans won their fourth-round matches. Moya ended 35-year-old Jonas Bjorkman's improbable run here, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-5, and Nadal later defeated Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 6-1, 7-6 (5) in a match far more difficult than the score suggests.

Separated by nearly a decade, Moya, 30, and Nadal, who turned 21 on Sunday, will meet in a quarterfinal match on Wednesday. They are the only former French Open champions left in the men's field.

On these occasions, Nadal has said, "Fifteen minutes before the match, we are good friends. Fifteen minutes after the match, we are good friends. I respect him, he respects me."

Nadal holds a 3-2 edge in head-to-head matches, but each of their last three best-of-three set matches -- all Tennis Masters Series events -- has gone the distance.

"Rafa will be an opponent, a rival," Moya said. "On the court, you don't have any friends. We all compete and, basically, if an opponent wins, I mean, he would have more points and he will earn more money than you.

"And a friend wouldn't do that. When you are on the court, you want to win the match, whatever the manner."

Nadal called the match against Hewitt his best of the tournament so far.

"Nice to be in the quarterfinals again, nice to play against one of my best friends, Carlos Moya," Nadal said. "Very happy for him. He's playing very, very well.

"I hope he stops here."

In the real world, 10 years is hardly an eternity. In sports, where the shelf life of the athlete is fleeting, a decade can encompass a generation. Side by side they may seem like teacher and pupil, old school and new school, but look more closely:

A tattoo of a dolphin is wrapped around Moya's right biceps. He was wearing those muscle-baring sleeveless shirts well before they became a regular sight on the men's tour. He still wears his black cap backward. The only apparel that really betrays his age are his shorts, which stop about an inch above his knees.

Nadal's pirate prince look is merely an updated version of Moya.

Trade the Nike cap for an oversized turquoise bandana (which is also adorned with a swoosh), cut the sleeveless shirt a little tighter (to show off his guns) and replace those too-short shorts with capris that fall three inches below the knee, and you have a fashion-forward Moya.

Admittedly, Moya started nervously against Bjorkman, who was trying to become only the third man aged 35 or older to advance to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. Bjorkman led 5-2, but after Moya held serve he won eight consecutive points to level the set. With the tiebreaker even at 5-all, Moya hit a big forehand that Bjorkman could only dump into the net. Moya won the set when a forehand hit the top of the net and dropped in.

Bjorkman, who never seemed to lose his enthusiasm, seemed a half-step slow and, ultimately, had no answer for Moya's strong forehand. During the match, a trainer massaged Bjorkman's aching right shoulder. In the end, Bjorkman said, the oh-so-slow Court Suzanne Lenglen worked against his forward-moving game.

Growing up in Sweden, Bjorkman was 10 years old when countryman Mats Wilander won the French Open in 1982. Twelve years later he played him for the first time as a professional in Washington.

"I couldn't sleep the night before," Bjorkman recalled. "Carlos and Rafa spent so much time together, I think it was mainly first and second match they played against each other that you had that chemistry on the court, that is maybe sometimes a little tougher when you play a friend.

"Now that they've been around for so many years, I wouldn't say that they would be putting something extra in it."

That little something extra surfaces almost daily in the PlayStation soccer battles between Moya, Nadal, David Ferrer and David Nalbandian. The losers have to do push-ups or, sometimes, buy dinner.

"It's a pretty nice atmosphere when we play," Moya said. "You get so nervous like if it was a tennis match. But it's good to have some fun. There's a lot of pressure here, and it is a way not to think abut tennis. It's good for our mind to relax a little bit."

Moya downplayed his influence on Nadal, saying only that he answered his many questions early in his career. Still, you have to believe that Moya was a factor in helping Nadal attain his two Roland Garros trophies. And now, the knowledge he imparted to Nadal could prevent him from winning a second French Open title.

"I don't think he learned anything from me," Moya said, pausing for a moment to ponder. "And if he learned it, he did much better than me."

The assembled media laughed at Moya's self-deprecating joke.

"He always had his own team," Moya continued. "I don't think I was an important part of his career."

Nadal, who stopped short of calling Moya an idol, begged to differ.

"To have a player like Moya in Mallorca," he said, "was very, very important to me."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.