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Feat of clay: Ferrero wins French Open

Posted: Monday, June 09, 2003

PARIS Juan Carlos Ferrero hit one last winner and sank to his knees, relieved he finally had conquered the clay of Roland Garros.

The Spaniard won the most lopsided French Open men's final in 25 years, capturing his first Grand Slam title Sunday with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 victory over unseeded Martin Verkerk.

Ferrero is nicknamed ''the Mosquito'' because of the way he races around the court, but he has also carried the label of a player unable to fulfill his clay-court potential. He was a French Open semifinalist in 2000 and 2001 and lost in the final last year to Albert Costa.

''This is a tournament I always wanted to win,'' Ferrero told the crowd in Spanish during the trophy ceremony. ''Now I have it in my pocket.''

The ceremony included Yannick Noah, the last Frenchman to win the French Open. His only major title came at Roland Garros 20 years ago.

''Bravo, Juan Carlos for his first Grand Slam title,'' Noah said. ''I hope he does better than me and doesn't stop here.''

Ferrero beat Verkerk with steady, patient baseline play and occasional flashes of brilliance.

Standing 12 feet behind the baseline, Ferrero ripped several of Verkerk's 125 mph serves for return winners, including one lunging shot from three steps off the court. By the third set, Ferrero was so relaxed he even played serve-and-volley on one point and won it.

''He was too good for me, and the better player won,'' Verkerk said. ''His level was unbelievably good. I had no chance.''

Verkerk had never won a Grand Slam match coming into the tournament, and he didn't play with the confidence or verve he showed during his unexpected run to the final. He served poorly, and Ferrero kept the 6-foot-5 Dutchman pinned deep in long rallies, which worked to the Spaniard's advantage.

A streaker wearing only three tennis balls ran onto the court during a second-set changeover but did nothing to distract Ferrero. He remained cool at the finish, winning 10 of the final 11 point to complete the most lopsided men's final at Roland Garros since Bjorn Borg beat Guillermo Vilas 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 in 1978.

''I believed always that I can win Roland Garros if not last year, maybe this year or next year,'' Ferrero said. ''Right now I think I can win more times.''

Asked about his plans, Ferrero grinned and said, ''I'm going to win the tournament at Wimbledon, no?''

Ferrero made it two first-time champions in one weekend at the French Open. Justine Henin-Hardenne won her first major title Saturday, beating Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-4 in the most one-sided women's final in 15 years.

Clijsters bounced back to earn her first Grand Slam title Sunday, teaming with Ai Sugiyama in doubles to beat Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez 6-7 (5), 6-2, 9-7.

On a mild but gusty afternoon, Verkerk appeared unnerved at the outset. In the opening game he double-faulted twice, faced five break points and lost the last one when he dumped a backhand into the net.

Errant with his first serve, Verkerk was broken again for 4-1 and again in the final game of the opening set. Ferrero lost only four points in his first four service games, before Verkerk briefly began to play better and look more animated, pumping his fist and running to his position after each point.

In the second set Verkerk held at love for 1-1, closing the game with an ace and a shout of ''Come on!'' as the crowd roared. He then broke for the first time.

But he double-faulted in the next game to give the break back, and Ferrero won the final three games of the set for a commanding lead.

When he completed the victory, the stoic Spaniard cracked a grin and jumped into the stands to hug his girlfriend, relatives and coach. He earned $983,000.

''It was a perfect final for me,'' Ferrero said.

Verkerk received $491,000, more than doubling his career earnings in seven years as a pro.

''It has been an amazing week for me,'' Verkerk said. ''It's more than a dream. To be in the final of a Grand Slam, there are no words for that.''



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