Norman Conquest Sends Safin Home
- By Steven Wine
- Jun. 08 2000 00:00
PARIS -- Unseeded Franco Squillari became the first Argentinian since 1982 to reach a Grand Slam men's semifinal when he beat Albert Costa 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 Wednesday at the French Open.
Squillari will next play third-seeded Magnus Norman, who beat No. 12 Marat Safin in three hours 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. No. 5 Gustavo Kuerten, the 1997 champion, and No. 16 Juan Carlos Ferrero meet in the other semifinal Friday.
"I think it's wide open," Squillari said. "Although I was tired, I think I played great tennis today."
Martina Navratilova, playing in a Grand Slam for the first time since 1996, lost in the third round of doubles. She and Mariaan de Swardt were eliminated by Alexandra Fusai and Nathalie Tauziat 2-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Top-seeded Martina Hingis will play her doubles partner, sixth-seeded Mary Pierce, in the women's semifinals Thursday. The other matchup will be between two Spaniards, No. 5 Conchita Martinez and No. 8 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.
Norman, the leader in this year's ATP champions race, had his hands full against the hard-hitting Safin. The demonstrative young Russian repeatedly threw his racket, flirted several times with defeat and took a nasty spill in the final game before finally sailing a forehand wide on match point.
Safin slammed his racket to the ground one more time, breaking it, then offered Norman a warm handshake.
"I was disappointed in my game," Safin said. "I played one of the worst matches. Norman played an unbelievable match. He was much better than me."
Norman moved one win closer to his first Grand Slam title.
"It was a great match, one of the best," he said. "It got a little bit tight, but I snuck through and I won it."
The last Argentinian to play in the men's semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament was Guillermo Vilas at the U.S. Open 18 years ago. Vilas and countryman Jose-Luis Clerc also reached the semifinals at the French Open that year.
"They were the inspiration for a whole generation of tennis players," Squillari said.
Squillari, 23, has never previously advanced beyond the second round at a major tournament. He is ranked 45th and came to Roland Garros with a record of just 15-13 this year. He has won the Munich tournament the past two years for the only titles of his career.
But against Costa, Squillari played a masterful claycourt match, combining patience with the foot speed needed to endure long rallies. Hardly overpowering, the left-hander used his serve merely to start the point and played several steps behind the baseline, waiting for short balls he could attack to win points.
Squillari broke serve twice in the first set and on set point hit a forehand that smacked the net cord and landed softly on Costa's side. The Spaniard walked off the court shaking his head.
By the third set, Costa was repeatedly dropping and throwing his racket in frustration. He got back into the match by winning the set but then began to tire.
In the final set, Squillari broke for a 5-4 lead, then served out the match. On match point he slammed an inside-out forehand for a winner, then raised his arms in triumph and looked to the sky with a grin.
"The feeling is something new I haven't felt before," he said. "I hope it will go on."