FERRERO beats Lapentti to advance to finals

Saturday, May 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROME (AP) _ Juan Carlos Ferrero disposed of Nicolas Lapentti in straight sets Saturday in the Italian Open semifinals to advance to his first career Masters Series final.

The 21-year-old Spaniard, coming off a win on clay in a smaller tournament in Barcelona last month, has not lost a set this week in Rome.

He finished off Ecuador's Lapentti 6-3, 6-3 in less than 90 minutes.

Ferrero, seeded eighth on Foro Italico's red clay, moved his opponent around the court with a mix of topspin and the occasional hard, flat shot.

Lapentti, 24, the world's former eighth-ranked player, double-faulted on match point.

The other semifinal match Saturday featured top-seeded Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil against Sweden's Andreas Vinciguerra.

The dlrs 2.95 million tournament, part of the ATP Masters Series, is a major tuneup for the French Open, which begins in two weeks.

With three wins this year, Ferrero will be considered one of the top challengers at this month's French Open, where he lost in the semifinals to Kuerten, who went on to win the title.

''Everyone's a bit tired when they get there, but I hope to arrive there in great form,'' Ferrero said. ''But even if I don't do well there, but finish well in Rome, it's good, because this is also an important tournament.''

Lapentti said Ferrero, who now holds a 3-1 lead in head-to-head matchups, has improved since their last meeting a year ago.

''He's definitely playing great tennis, and is solid from both sides,'' the Ecuadorean said.

Lapentti, coming off an ankle injury last month in Monte Carlo, said he is happy with the way he was striking the ball this week. ''But to beat a player like Ferrero, you need to be fit,'' he added.

Kuerten had arrived in Italy the favorite to win both here and in France. And through the quarterfinals in Rome this week, he's done little to shake that role.

The lanky Brazilian continued to crush the ball and sweep his opponents off the slow clay as he advanced Friday night into the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Alex Corretja.

The 24-year-old Kuerten, who won Monte Carlo, demonstrated with his 23 winners why many hold him to be the world's best clay-court player. The two-time French Open champion mixed vicious backhands, precise lobs and a handful of hard flat serves that left the 10th-seeded Corretja bewildered and the Foro Italico crowd cheering.

``It's a good feeling hitting the ball so well,'' he said. ``It's not always so easy, though. But when I go ahead, it's tough for the others to keep up.''

Vinciguerra made the semifinals after saving two set-points on his way to a 7-6 (7), 6-2 win over Israel's Harel Levy.

The big-swinging left-hander overpowered Levi, punctuating the win on match point with a crosscourt winner.

It's among the biggest career wins for the young Swede, who lost to Britain's Tim Henman in a hard-court final in Denmark in February.

``I'm surprised that I'm in the semifinals, but I had a feeling that I would play well here,'' Vinciguerra said. When asked about his experience playing Kuerten, the 20-year-old responded, ``I've played Kuerten once, and that match I don't want to talk about.''

Ferrero rolled over South Africa's Wayne Ferreira 6-0, 6-2 in less than an hour in their quarterfinal showdown Friday.

The hard-serving Ferreira, who struggled with Foro Italico's slow red clay and heavy balls, couldn't muster a single break point.

Lapentti had advanced on Friday, beating Spain's Jacobo Diaz 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.