Wednesday, March 12Perfect Coria healing while rain keeps falling at Open
By Greg GarberESPN.com
NEW YORK -- While three days of steady rain has left people at the National Tennis Center cursing, for Guillermo Coria it has been a blessing.
|Andre Agassi was already talking about a rematch on a faster surface after losing to Guillermo Coria in Paris.|
Coria, an elfin-eyed 21-year-old from Argentina, is nursing a left thigh injury. His round-of-16 match with Jonas Bjorkman was scheduled for Monday, but moved to Tuesday. Coria blitzed Bjorkman 6-2 in the first set and was leading 2-0 when rain sent them home for a second time. On Wednesday they returned for a third try but never played a point.
So while everyone from Andre Agassi to Martina Navratilova has complained about the rain and the USTA's fractured schedule, Coria is thrilled.
All that downtime is giving his thigh time to heal. It's a miracle of nature you might expect from El Mago -- The Magician -- as they call him in Europe and South American.
Coria finally was able to finish the match on Thursday with a 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 victory to set up a delicious quarterfinal matchup with Andre Agassi because, despite Coria's tender years, the two have already developed quite a history.
It was Coria who took down his idol in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, at this year's French Open. After losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, Agassi was asked what his Wimbledon hopes were.
"To play Coria," he said, rather pointedly. "Listen, I'd rather not be his idol and play him on hard court than be his idol and play him on clay."
Be careful what you wish for? Based on Coria's sensational results this summer, Agassi may be rethinking that request should it be granted one Grand Slam late.
With Pete Sampras and Agassi already past his 33rd birthday, the tennis community has been searching for the next enduring champion. Wimbledon winner Roger Federer, 22, and Andy Roddick, 21, are the consensus choices, consider Coria as another possibility.
Since losing in the first round at Wimbledon, Coria has won 22 of 24 matches -- and one of them was a retirement following a 15-match winning streak. In a profession where losing is an inevitable and frequent occurrence, Coria has lost only four sets over an unconscious span that includes parts of July, August and, now, September. And although those 15 victories came on clay when Coria won titles in Stuttgart, Kitzbuhel and Sopot, he has enough game to thrive on hard courts, where his record is a sturdy 16-7.
|Argentina's Guillermo Coria has won 47 of his past 47 service games.|
Who was the last man to drop a set here at the U.S. Open? Federer? Roddick? Agassi? No, it's Coria, who until his match with Bjorkman had not dropped a service game. He was 47-for-47 and had saved no fewer than 17 break points.
It's not surprising he's the No. 5-ranked player in the ATP realm. Coria, whose record is 54-13, has won more matches this year than he did in three previous years on Tour.
Coria beat Agassi on a slower-than-usual red clay court at Roland Garros because rain had softened it.
"I just couldn't quite play it exactly on my terms today," Agassi said after the match. "Against a player such as Coria, I need to step up and be in control. That's a lot easier on other surfaces than it is on clay because I'm hitting a lot of backhands above my shoulder. It's different when you can count on the bounce and you can just push forward and when I can take the ball in my strike zone. He was getting it up on my backhand and hitting it up the line real well."
Coria, like Lleyton Hewitt, is not built along the prototypical lines of today's big-serving ball bashers. Named for Argentine star Guillermo Villas by his father Oscar, a tennis coach, he is only 5-foot-9, 145 pounds. He is breathtakingly fast and seems to get every ball back, which is, after all, the object of the game.
If there is a weakness in his game -- and there may not be -- it is against the monster-servers, like Max Mirnyi, in the quarterfinals at Cincinnati and Dutch sensation Martin Verkerk in the semifinal of the French Open, where Coria went out in straight sets.
That was Coria's best Grand Slam result to date, and the win over Agassi was the biggest of his career. That came after a rousing victory over countryman Mariano Zabaleta in a five-set match that required 4 hours and 41 minutes and two days to complete.
Previously, Coria had lost the two head-to-heads with Agassi, both coming on hard courts. Heading into a likely third meeting on the hard stuff, the pressing question is Coria's health. How will the rest of his match with Bjorkman affect his thigh? Will he be able to stand up to Agassi in a five-set match? The answer should come on Friday.
Agassi railed Coria 1-4 in the first set at the French Open, then ripped off five straight games to take the set. Coria blinked, then won the next three sets.
"I was able to leave my fears behind and control the game," he explained later.
The T-shirt with the cruel slogan "Kill Your Idol" is popular in certain circles, and in a figurative sense, Coria had done that. It left him shaken, hunched over the next at Court Suzanne Lenglen.
"I was very, very happy," Coria said, "because I had really given my best in this match. I'm never going to forget this day. He congratulated me at the end. He told me that he hoped I would be lucky, and I have a racket that he gave me as a souvenir."
If Coria beats Agassi in the quarterfinals, the racket will be deafening.
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.