New and improved
Rejuvenated Ferrero wins his first French Open titlePosted: Sunday June 08, 2003 11:26 AM
Updated: Sunday June 08, 2003 11:03 PM
PARIS (AP) -- Juan Carlos Ferrero smacked winners while lunging so far he nearly landed in the courtside geraniums. He whipped returns at his opponent's feet, put strokes on the lines and controlled the tempo on nearly every point.
Add it up, and Ferrero made Martin Verkerk look exactly like what the Dutchman will be this week: a player at a local club.
Far more at ease with the setting, Ferrero claimed his first Grand Slam title at the tournament where he came so close the past three years, beating the unseeded Verkerk 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 Sunday in the most lopsided French Open final since 1978.
"This is a tournament I always wanted to win," the No. 3-seeded Ferrero said, "and now I have it in my pocket."
When the Spaniard laced a forehand winner on match point, he dropped his racket and fell to his knees. After a hug from Verkerk, Ferrero ran to the other end of the court and hopped the wall to celebrate with friends and family in the guest box.
His energy was just that boundless all afternoon. He lived up to his nickname, "Mosquito," earned by the way he zips around the court.
Scrambling side to side, Ferrero won 15 of the 22 points that lasted 10 strokes or longer. And by standing as far as 12 feet behind the baseline, he managed to neutralize with precise returns the serves from 6-foot-5 Verkerk that reach 131 mph.
"I'm not happy, of course," Verkerk said, "but on the other hand, I can say: 'OK, I had no chance.'"
Until this tournament, he had never won a Grand Slam match, and his overall career record in seven years as a pro was below .500. On Tuesday, he'll be back in the Netherlands to play for the national club team championship.
Verkerk was the first player since Mikael Pernfors in 1986 to reach the final in his French Open debut and the eighth unseeded finalist in the last 35 years.
"To be in a final of a Grand Slam -- there are no words for that," Verkerk said. "I mean, I'm still dreaming. And I think I will dream for a little longer."
Right from the start Sunday, the 46th-ranked Verkerk seemed happy to be there: When the players walked out on court, he led the way, smiling and waving to the crowd. Ferrero was straightfaced, looking down as he carried two racket bags to his chair.
The first game set the tone. Verkerk double-faulted twice, faced five break points, and lost his serve with a backhand in the net.
Verkerk pounded 112 aces in his surprising run to the final, which included upsets of four seeded players. But he managed just 12 aces Sunday. Ferrero threw changeups instead of fastballs, winning one point when Verkerk shanked a 77 mph kick serve.
The irrepressible Verkerk tried to rile himself and the hundreds of Dutch fans wearing orange shirts, hats or wigs. He would pump his fists and yell, "Come on!" or "Ho!" after winning points, sometimes skipping back to the baseline.
A backhand volley gave Verkerk his only service break and a 2-1 lead in the second set. During the ensuing changeover, a middle-aged male streaker wearing three strategically placed tennis balls -- and with the name of a Web site scrawled on his back -- pranced on court and hopped the net until being corralled by security.
Unfazed, Ferrero went out and broke right back to 2-2. He never let up, and took 10 of the last 11 points to craft the biggest rout for a championship at Roland Garros since Bjorn Borg's 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Guillermo Vilas 25 years ago.
It came a day after Justine Henin-Hardenne beat fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters 6-4, 6-0 for her first major title -- the most one-sided women's French final in 15 years.
The swirling wind that kicked dust into the players' eyes a few times and rippled their shirts like waves on a pond didn't help Verkerk: He made just 46 percent of his first serves and double-faulted seven times.
Unable to keep up with Ferrero's deep shots, Verkerk wound up with 56 unforced errors, 30 more than the champion.
"My strokes were not good enough. The length was not good enough. My volleys were not good enough," Verkerk said. "Yeah, I mean, what was actually good?"
His game isn't exactly built for clay. Ferrero's most certainly is, and eight of the Spaniard's 10 career titles have come on the slow surface.
"Ferrero is, on clay, the best in the world," Verkerk said. "On clay, I can work on my strokes whatever I want, but I will never be as quick as Ferrero. I will never be the player Ferrero is."
For all of his skills, though, Ferrero was beginning to earn a reputation as someone who couldn't produce in the clutch. He's just the fifth man to reach the French Open semifinals four straight years, but he lost at that stage in 2000 and 2001, and was runner-up to Albert Costa in 2002.
"I always believed that I can win Roland Garros," Ferrero said. "If not last year, maybe this year or next year."
Asked his plans for the coming weeks, Ferrero smiled and
responded: "I'm going to win the tournament at Wimbledon, no?"