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Corretja falls back on happy memories

Alex Corretja cheerfully admits the nearest he has to a grass court at home in Barcelona is the grassy verge of his parents' swimming pool.

tennis Updated: Jun 18, 2003 22:54 IST

Dismissed as a claycourter through-and-through, Alex Corretja cheerfully admits the nearest he has to a grass court at home in Barcelona is the grassy verge of his parents' swimming pool.

But as the Catalan prepares for his first Wimbledon visit in five years, and a opening round match against British favourite Tim Henman, he smiles to himself when he weighs up his chances.

"I did something really big once on why not again," he grinned on Wednesday while warming up for the grasscourt grand slam.

He was referring to a Davis Cup match in the U.S. last year when, against all logic, he pulled off a win he described as "one of the most weird results in tennis ever" when he fought back from two sets down to beat Pete Sampras, the seven-times Wimbledon champion. On grass.

He now knows anything is possible.

"Of course that gives me a little more confidence," the 29-year-old admitted at Stoke Park Club where he is playing a warm-up exhibition.

But still the former world number two readily concedes Henman is the favourite.


When asked if it is a good year to run into Henman given the Briton's troublesome shoulder, Corretja smiles ruefully.

"You've got to look at my year too. It hasn't been the best year for either of us. We have both dropped through the rankings.

"But I would rather play him in the first round than in the fourth round. Usually the first round is difficult because you are not used to the courts.

"To be honest, Tim has been playing on grass his whole life. I have played maybe 10 or 11 times in my career. He knows he is definitely the favourite but strange things can happen in tennis."

Corretja, world number two in 1999, has dropped to 37 in the world. His form has slumped and the twice French Open runner-up suffered a miserable time at Roland Garros last month losing in the opening round.

"My main goal is to try and recover my game... I am not here to try and win Wimbledon," he said.

That he is even here at all is something of a minor miracle.

The Spaniard last played at the All England Club in 1998. That year he lost in the first round. A second round defeat in 1996 and 1994 preceded that.

The south-west London turf was not exactly a happy hunting ground for him.


In the years since 1998 there was a spat between a clutch of Spanish and Latin American claycourters and Wimbledon over the club's seeding policy.

Unlike the other grand slams, Wimbledon reserves the right to ignore world rankings and take into account players' grasscourt form.

This infuriated Corretja but he is now happy with the compromise system where a top 32 player must be seeded in the top 32 although there is room for jostling within that group.

"That is all in the past and you know how I felt," he said. "We are playing every week to earn our ranking. It is not just something you can go into the supermarket and buy. It should be the main consideration.

"But I do not really have any problem with Wimbledon," he added, flashing a smile. "It is hard to have a problem with a place you never play."

During those stay-away years Corretja barely stepped foot in Britain.

"Only to change planes. From Barcelona to London. London to Singapore and Singapore to Melbourne," he laughed.

"But now I want to see more of London."

If, next Tuesday, he can reproduce the grasscourt heroics which saw off Sampras last year, he could be seeing a lot more of the All England Club in the coming fortnight.

First Published: Jun 18, 2003 22:54 IST