PARIS: Sizzling Spaniards Albert Costa and Juan Carlos Ferrero raced into the French Open quarter-finals yesterday, underlining their claycourt expertise with rampaging wins to move within one match of a repeat of last year's final.
Costa, who beat an off-form and not fully fit Ferrero 12 months ago in the trophy match, said he was hitting top form after whipping French 32nd seed Arnaud Clement in 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 in 3hr 07min.
It was a solid performance that vaulted Costa into the last eight – the sixth Spanish-speaker to reach the quarter-finals at this year's tournament.
In a fourth-round match held over from Sunday, Guillermo Coria, the seventh seed, booked a quarter-final showdown with second seed Andre Agassi after winning a marathon battle with fellow Argentine Mariano Zabaleta.
Former junior champion Coria led by two sets to one when the tie was halted overnight Sunday because of failing light. He lost the fourth but finally won 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 in 4hr 41min, the longest match so far in the tournament.
Costa is still seeking a title since last year's Roland Garros triumph.
The ninth seed had had to struggle through three agonising five setters to earn the right to face Clement, the final French survivor in the men's draw.
But coming back to the centre court arena for the first time since lifting the trophy clearly inspired the 27-year-old and he turned in a hugely improved showing to set up a meeting with fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo, the 28th seed, for a place in the semi-finals.
Robredo beat three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 in 2hr 46min to reach the French Open quarter-finals yesterday.
“It was a fantastic match. It was pretty difficult to beat him in front of his home fans. But I played very, very well and I am happy to be through to the quarter-finals.
“I think I am getting back to last year's level,” insisted Costa.
Costa, who rammed down 11 aces, advanced when Clement hit long. The generally undemonstrative Spaniard punched the air to celebrate a magnificent win after a performance which belied his earlier struggles.
While Costa attempts to become the first Spaniard since Sergi Bruguera in 1994 to retain the crown – Kuerten also won back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001 – Ferrero served notice that he again poses the biggest threat.
He annihilated Mantilla 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 in barely an hour and a half and will now meet Chilean 19th seed Fernando Gonzalez, who dished out a similar thrashing, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2, to Finnish 30th seed Jarkko Nieminen.
Ferrero, 23, won the Monte Carlo Masters title in April.
But in the back of his mind he may remember the 1998 juniors final, here which he lost to Gonzalez.
Ferrero said this occasion would be completely different.
“We were juniors, so it's not the same. This is a different match. I think this is more important. I think we will be more motivated to play this quarter-final.”
On his match with Mantilla, Ferrero said he had even surprised himself, such was his superiority. It was easier than I thought. I think I played a really great match.”
Gonzalez, a 22-year-old from Santiago, hopes his junior title win will inspire him.
“It's a long time ago but I have fond memories of it.
“Ferrero is playing great tennis - but I am playing well too,” said Gonzalez, who was a US Open quarter-finalist last year.
Ferrero had already defeated Mantilla in all of the pair's six previous encounters.
Mantilla said he was ready for a break after his hiding.
“Juan Carlos played brilliantly. I thought he was different class. I thought he played perfect. Well, he does have a good record against me! Now I need a rest.” – AFP