Another comeback for marathon man Costa at French Open

Wednesday, June 4th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PARIS (AP) -- French Open marathon man Albert Costa dug another big hole in the red clay of Roland Garros, and again found his way out.

The defending champion erased a two-set deficit for the third time in five matches Wednesday, wearing down Tommy Robredo for an improbable quarterfinal victory, 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.

"The only thing I tried to do was to continue and to think I could still do it," Costa said. "Why not repeat the same success if my body allows it?"

When Costa beat Sergio Roitman in the opening round after losing the first two sets, it was the first such comeback in the Spaniard's 10-year career. Then he did it again in the third round against Nicolas Lapentti.

Comeback Costa also won a five-setter in the second round. He has played 23 sets and 227 games totaling 18 hours, 32 minutes -- including 3:29 Wednesday -- to reach the semifinals.

He needs two more wins for a second consecutive French Open title. It would also be his second title in the past 89 tournaments.

Costa's opponent Friday will be the winner of Wednesday's late match between Juan Carlos Ferrero and Fernando Gonzalez.

After trailing the No. 28-seeded Robredo for most of the match, the ninth-seeded Costa won the final five games. A backhand volley winner on match point gave Costa the victory, and he fell on his back with a scream of jubilation.

Leaving the court, Costa was told he didn't even look tired.

"Maybe it's the smile," he said. "But I am tired, very tired."

Robredo was trying to upset a Grand Slam champion for the third match in a row. He beat top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt in the third round and three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten in the fourth round.

But as his match against Costa approached three hours, Robredo was obviously the wearier player. He dallied during changeovers and failed to reach shots he chased down earlier.

When Costa reeled him in with a drop shot and then lobbed a winner over his head, a frustrated Robredo gave his racket an overhead heave toward the backstop. Four points later, Costa took the lead for the first time -- and for good -- when Robredo double-faulted to make it 3-2 in the final set.

Costa struggled with his serve early, then lost just one point in his final five service games.

The match was big news in Spain, but it began with the center-court stands half empty, and the crowd was subdued for much of the marathon. Costa dropped his first three service games, and Robredo hit 17 winners in the opening set.

Costa lost serve twice more in the second set, including in the final game with a double-fault on break point.

Robredo broke again for a 2-0 lead in the fourth set, but then showed signs of nerves for the first time, and his mood didn't improve when he argued at length after the umpire ordered a point replayed.

Costa broke back, then broke twice more. He held at love to close the set and force yet another fifth set.