It's one of those rare matches that just had it all, the good, the bad and the incredibly ugly: drama, pressure, national pride, a big favorite and a big underdog, beautiful clay-court tennis, horrendous clay-court tennis, an injury, yips, match points lost, an inspirational "wave" and, of course, one of the biggest chokes in the sport's history.
It's a match so bizarre that you almost don't believe it happened, no matter how many times you view the tragic ending that unfolded for Guillermo Coria. To think that Gaston Gaudio, much like Albert Costa, would ever take home a Grand Slam trophy was flat-out ludicrous. Unlike Costa, however, who got out to an amazing start in his bout with Ferrero, Gaudio was pummeled under the dirtballer juggernaut Coria in the early stages of their championship encounter. Yet he emerged the victor in one of my favorite tennis scorelines of all time: 0-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 8-6.
Coria, nicknamed "El Mago" (The Magician), predated Rafael Nadal on clay. While Nadal is built on brawn and strength, the Argentine's game was fluid and loose and, well, magical. Both styles distinct, both beautiful to watch.
In '03, Coria won three clay titles in three weeks post-Wimbledon. In '04, he won the Monte Carlo masters, finished runner-up to Roger Federer in Hamburg and reached No. 3 in the world. He was primed as could be going into the French, where last year he'd suffered a shock defeat to obscure Dutchman Martin Verkerk in the semis. This year, though, would be his year—especially with Roger Federer, who fell in the third round, out of the picture.
And for two sets, Coria was well on his way to victory. Embarrassingly so. It took "the wave" done around the stadium by the French fans to spark Gaudio into action—he'd take a tight third set and watch in the fourth as Coria suffered from leg cramps, essentially giving it up. That just opened the floodgates for more drama: the deciding fifth.
Still paralyzed by cramps, Coria fought past the pain and got into position to serve for the match at 6-5. He held two championship points, his coach and girlfriend cheering him on, the stadium going wild—and Coria hit unforced errors on both of them. Gaudio would break, hold and break again, capping off a stunning victory and cementing Guillermo Coria's legacy at the top of this heralded, legendary countdown.
Like Dementieva, Coria will also go down as one of the best players to never win a Slam. Even more than her, he had one in his pocket—the Russian can never say she held match points in the title match.
But unlike Dementieva, Coria let this failed opportunity ruin his career. He followed up '04 with a surprisingly solid '05 season, but the damage was all but done. With this choke job in the finals, he lost his spark. Struggling with injuries, low confidence and extreme yips on his serve, the Argentine called it quits a couple years ago after toiling on the challenger circuit. It was a most unfortunate ending to a career that, if he hadn't choked at the worst of times, could have been a thing of beauty.