Verkerk, Ferrero reach final in straight sets

Saturday, June 7, 2003

PARIS -- Martin Verkerk is having the time of his life at the French Open.

Maybe that's why he didn't want his semifinal to end when opponent Guillermo Coria risked disqualification by tossing his racket, which hit a ball girl.

The big-serving, loud-laughing Verkerk beat No. 7 Coria 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (0) Friday to become the first player since 1986 (Mikael Pernfors) to reach the final in his Roland Garros debut. He's the eighth unseeded French Open finalist in the last 35 years.

"I can not explain this. I mean, this is a dream," Verkerk said. "This is actually a little bit of a joke."

How improbable is the Dutchman's run?

As of two weeks ago, he hadn't won a Grand Slam match. He came in with a losing record in 2003, including a 2-9 stretch from February through April. In recent years, toiling in minor league tournaments, he considered quitting -- twice.

Even he thinks it's "unbelievable," a word he used about a half-dozen times after pounding Coria with 19 aces, raising his tournament total to 112.

"If you see me one year ago, I had difficult with volleys, I had difficult to run, I had a weak forehand. I had, actually, only a backhand and a serve," Verkerk said in his slightly fractured English. "So if you work hard, eat good, sleep good, physically in the gym do all your things, something like this can happen."

On Sunday, he will face No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero, who beat defending champion Albert Costa 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in a rematch of last year's final.

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