Mal's picks: Guga, Hewitt, Coria and Henman
Monday, May 31, 2004
Jonesing for a return to greatness
By MaliVai Washington
Special to ESPN.com
PARIS -- Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, the three-time champion of the French Open, might be in the midst of his last, great Grand Slam run.
Most people who win majors, win them in a small span of time. Kuerten hasn't won a major since 2001, partially because of injuries, and this could be his last chance to win another.
Seeded 28th, Kuerten is playing well enough to beat anyone in the world right now. Of concern is the repaired hip, which seems to be OK, but he is continually having the trainer come to his court during matches. Nevertheless, he is in the quarterfinals in Paris once again.
He'll have to play his best match of the tournament against No. 8-seed David Nalbandian of Argentina. Kuerten will have to be playing even better than when he upset No. 1 Roger Federer, who didn't seem near the top of his game.
Although, it seems sure that Kuerten will be able to hold his own serve, will he be able to get the all-important break? Nalbandian has been playing so well both when serving and receiving. And, unfortunately for Kuerten, Nalbandian feels he should win this match and can win this tournament. Playing someone who believes strongly in himself and his ability makes a very dangerous opponent. Still, Kuerten should win this in five sets.
Here's a look at how the other quarterfinals might shake out.
Gaston Gaudio, Argentina, vs. Lleyton Hewitt (12), Australia
Lleyton Hewitt is jonesing to get back to where he was two years ago -- No. 1 in the world. He knows he's better than his 2003 year-end ranking of 17, and he's out to prove it. He made a commitment to the clay-court season this year, and it's paying off. On Monday, he equaled his best-ever French Open championship result.
His only vulnerability seems to be in closing out a set and the match. He lets opponents stay in matches longer than they should.
Gaudio is coming into this match feeling like he is the better player on clay and should win. More than any other match so far, it's important for Hewitt to get off to a quick start. Once Gaudio gains confidence, he's difficult to beat regardless of who he's playing. So, because Gaudio is arguably better than Hewitt on this surface, Hewitt needs to steal Gaudio's belief in himself.
To do that, Hewitt is going to have to be more aggressive than usual. Just from the baseline, stroke for stroke, shot for shot, the slight edge goes to Gaudio. Hewitt must then employ a difficult balance: maintaining a patient game while being aggressive to end the point.
Pick: Hewitt in four sets
Carlos Moya (5), Spain, vs. Guillermo Coria (3), Argentina
Too bad Moya and Coria are meeting in the quarterfinals because this is arguably the best match of the tournament. Coria is on a mission. Behind only Roger Federer, Coria was the favorite coming into this tournament.
This matchup will come down to the player who can strike first in the point. Moya has more firepower with his serve and his forehand. Coria is a better mover and has a better backhand, but he doesn't want to have to rely on running down balls all day.
He cannot allow Moya to dictate play toward his forehand. If Moya is serving well, which allows him to play a lot of forehand tennis, than Moya wins this match. But Coria has every bit of expertise on clay that Juan Carlos Ferrero had last year when he won the championship.
Pick: Coria in five sets
Tim Henman (9), Britain, vs. Juan Ignacio Chela (22)
Common sense says that Chela should beat Henman on a clay court, but gut instinct says that Henman will surprise us all. He's going to be playing an aggressive style, which works well against clay-courters who don't like to be rushed and prefer a nice comfortable rhythm. Henman is just the player to keep Chela off-pace.
Chela is your prototypical clay-courter: very consistent from the ground, very quick around the court and loves to play forehand tennis. He's built for stamina and long, drawn-out matches.
Henman is not. If Henman gets down a set or two, as he has twice already this tournament, he'll not win this match. Henman will have to play the best clay-court match he's ever played to reach this semifinal. He seems up for the challenge, but he better have the best serving and volleying day in his life.
Pick: Henman in four
MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.