Same again for superstitious Verkerk

Martin Verkerk wants to repeat his run to last year's French Open final and is staying in the same hotel, eating the same food and using the same raquets.
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Published on May 28, 2004 12:52 PM IST
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PTI | ByDave James (AFP), Paris

Martin Verkerk is so determined to repeat his run to last year's French Open final that he is staying in the same hotel, eating the same food and using the same raquets which helped propel him from journeyman player to overnight sensation.

The Dutchman came into Roland Garros in 2003 known only to his fellow professionals but left two weeks later as an advertisers' and sponsors' dream with his contorted faces of joy and fist-pumping enthusiasm delighting the Paris crowd.

"I'm very superstitious. I have everything the same," said the 19th seed who reached the third round on Thursday when his Romanian opponent Victor Hanescu had to retire with an injury with Verkerk ahead 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 3-0 at the time.

"I do everything the same. I have the same coach as well. Never change a winning team," said Verkerk who faces Australia's Lleyton Hewitt in the third round.

The 25-year-old Verkerk beat former champion Carlos Moya, Guillermo Coria and Rainer Schuettler on his way to the final in 2003 before he finally ran out of steam against Juan Carlos Ferrero.

After that, things went steadily downhill with a first round exit at Wimbledon, where his big service game was expected to thrive, and a failure to get beyond the third round of any tournament in the remainder of the season.

This year, things have improved with quarter-final spots in Sydney, Milan, Scottsdale and a runners-up place in Munich, and he knows the reason for the transformation.

"I have a 45-minute tape of last year's French Open and I watch it a lot especially when I'm down or not playing well," he explained.

"It has all the small things on there. The first round, the second round, press conferences. It's very funny. It always brings a smile to my face. To watch that tape inspires me."

In fact, since last year, he has been inundated with tapes and photographs.

"I think I have 35 tapes from everywhere. For the first two months after, photos came in from all over the world. I have so many things at home. It's very special, I shall never forget it.

"People say that for six months after Roland Garros, things were not so good but there are worse things in life than a tennis game, so I knew it would all come right because I have been playing really well from the first of January."

Now Hewitt stands in Verkerk's path to another fourth round appearance and the 12th seeded Australian will start as favourite having won both of their career meetings on hard courts in Sydney this year and on clay at last week's world team championship in Dusseldorf.

"He's a top five player on every surface," said Verkerk who admires the Australian's enthusiasm for the game, which is similar to his own.

"It's good to be enthusiastic. If you are not, you should stop playing."

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