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Back spasms force Coria to withdraw

4/4/2004

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Andy Roddick battled a queasy stomach
in the final of the Nasdaq-100 Open, and he was the healthiest
player on the court.

The curse of Key Biscayne struck again Sunday, and it hit
Guillermo Coria hardest. He retired because of back spasms after
losing the first three points of the fourth set trailing 6-7 (2),
6-3, 6-1.

It's the fourth time in 15 years that the men's final has been
affected by an ailing player. Roddick acknowledged he could have
done worse than a little nausea.

"I'll take sick to my stomach over injured any day," Roddick
said. "I was definitely working with the lesser of two evils."

Coria said he hurt his back in the first set. Trailing 6-5, he
received treatment from a trainer during a changeover, then played
a flawless tiebreaker to pull out the set.

But Coria walked to the chair frowning and shaking his head and
threw his racket at his bag. As Roddick took control in the second
and third sets, Coria occasionally clutched his back between
points, and his movement and serve were clearly affected.

"Guillermo slowed by an injury is still faster than about 95
percent of the guys on tour," Roddick said. "But it's tough
playing with an injury."

After hitting a forehand into the net in the first game of the
final set, Coria waved his hands in frustration and walked to the
net to concede.

"The pain was excruciating, and I was having trouble serving,"
said Coria, who lost serve five times. "I knew after I won the
first set I was not going to be able to finish."

Roddick felt less than terrific himself. He said he woke up sick
to his stomach, and the queasiness lingered during the match.

"I was battling," he said. "I was trying to maybe bluff my
way through, because I knew he was hurt, too."

Maybe there's something in the water that surrounds the island,
given Key Biscayne's tradition of tainted finals.

-- In 1989, Thomas Muster was unable to play because he hurt his
knee when hit by a car hours after winning his semifinal match.

-- In 1994, Pete Sampras nearly defaulted because of a stomach
ailment, but in a sporting gesture, Andre Agassi declined the
walkover victory to give his rival an hour to recover. Sampras then
won the match.

-- In 1996, Goran Ivanisevic woke up with a stiff neck the
morning of the final and quit in the fourth game.

Roddick knows the history well, because he grew up in nearby
Boca Raton and watched matches from the upper deck as a youngster.
That made his first title in the event especially sweet, Coria's
injury notwithstanding.

"It's not the picture-perfect ending," Roddick said. "It's
not the way you want to win a tournament. But at the same, I'm here
at the end of the day. That was my goal coming into the
tournament."

Before Coria's injury, the match had the trappings of an
exciting final, with perfect weather, a capacity crowd of 13,118 and a Davis
Cup atmosphere. Some fans waved Argentine flags, while others
chanted "U-S-A."

"I feel very disappointed for the crowd," Coria said. "I felt
like I was playing in Argentina."

Roddick hit 11 aces, the fastest of which reached 143 mph. He
lost only six of 45 points on his first serve, and played steadily
from the baseline, even fooling Coria twice with drop shots.

"Midway through the second set, I stepped up in all areas of my
game," Roddick said. "I wasn't going to beat him just rallying. I
started going for my shots more."

Roddick reached a milestone by improving his career record to
200-67 and leads the ATP Tour in victories this year with a record
of 26-5. He has won the past eight finals he has played and will
climb in Monday's rankings from third to second behind No. 1 Roger
Federer.

He'll now begin preparations for the U.S. Davis Cup match Friday
through Sunday against Sweden in Delray Beach. Coria said he
expects to be fine in two or three days and plans to play for
Argentina's team beginning Friday at Belarus.

The 21-year-old Roddick earned $533,350 and became the sixth
American to win the men's championship. Sampras was also 21 when he
won the first of his three Key Biscayne titles. Agassi won the
first of his six titles in the event at 19.

Coria settled for $266,675, and fans were left to wonder: Had he
stayed healthy, how would the match have gone?

"Longer," Roddick said.