Clay aces victorious in Rotterdam

Clay-court kings Juan Carlos Ferrero and Guillermo Coria broadened their tennis horizons with convincing opening-round victories indoors at the €782 250 Rotterdam Cup on Monday.

Spain’s Ferrero, a former Roland Garros champion, and Argentine Coria, who lost the final in Paris last year to Gaston Gaudio, have both abandoned the inviting red-dirt events of South America this month to polish their indoor fitness in Europe.

Ferrero, battling to escape the quicksand of a number 64 ranking, polished off German Rainer Schuetter—a former world number six—with a 6-4, 6-2 opening victory.

Coria, seeded second and making his debut in Europe’s largest port city, advanced over Dutchman Raemon Sluiter 6-2, 6-4.

After six months of shoulder problems that eventually led to surgery in 2004, the one-time world number three is taking a brave chance in the hope that the hard-court time will better prepare him for upcoming tests next month in the United States at the first pair of 2005 Masters Series events.

Though he has lifted seven of his eight career titles on the red clay, the 23-year-old is keen—for now—to play out of his comfort zone.

Taking an example from top seed Roger Federer, a fast-courter who can count two titles in the Hamburg clay, the South American said: “I want to improve on all surfaces for taking a shot at becoming number one. Roger has shown that by winning on clay in Hamburg twice.”

While ATP clay challenges in Argentina, Chile and Brazil are under way this month, Coria is prepared to stick it out in Europe.

“I know I can play well on clay. Playing here gives me the opportunity to improve my all-round game.”

Coria’s next test will be as target-man for Thai Paradorn Srichaphan, who will get a long-awaited opportunity for victory over a top-10 player when he faces the second seed.

The unseeded Paradorn, down to 33rd from a career-high ninth, has notched a confidence-building defeat of a top-10 contender, defeating Ferrero in the second round at Paris Bercy.

Coria could have his eye on Ferrero’s performance in Rotterdam a year ago, when the clay-bred Spaniard travelled all the way into a final against Australian Lleyton Hewitt.

Paradorn admitted he was pleased to come through a test after spending two-and-a-quarter hours on court with Andreev—including a 66-minute opening set that went into a tie-breaker.

“It’s always nice to win and get out of first round.
It was a good match to win. I lost concentration a bit in the second set, he was playing well,” Paradorn said.

Ferrero was untroubled by Schuettler, now 3-5 this season.

Swedes split a decision as Czech teenager Berdych toppled Robin Soderling 7-5, 6-2; but former Australian Open winner Thomas Johansson put things right with a defeat of Slovak Karol Beck 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.

Federer, competing for the first time since losing the Australian Open semifinal to Marat Safin, faces an opening match against qualifier Bohdan Ulihrach, against whom he has never lost in three matches.—Sapa-AFP

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