PARIS -- Pele stood on the podium, holding the Mousquetaires Cup that is awarded to the French Open men's champion, and bounced a soccer ball off his head and toward Carlos Moya. Moya, with sweat flying from his tousled, shoulder-length hair, headed the ball back, Pele knocked it back to Moya, and Moya back to Pele.
The 16,000 fans at Stade Roland Garros were laughing and cheering. This was by far the best action they saw yesterday.
The 12th-seeded Moya, a charismatic 21-year-old with a sweet smile and a killer forehand, had thoroughly dismantled his friend and Spanish countryman, No. 14 seed Alex Corretja, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.
The match lacked any sense of tension, as Moya, who won $650,000, broke Corretja's serve in the first game and never trailed. He showed a strong serve, a competent volley and most of all a forehand that he leapt into with a deep grunt and a dust-raising finish.
Corretja, a solemn 24-year-old, consistently hit balls off the frame of his racket and was so flummoxed by the unpredictable wind that his best move came after his last mistake. That was a backhand service return into the net, a shot Corretja followed by leaping over the net to gather Moya in a big hug.
Corretja, too, played a little soccer with Pele, who was supposed to help Don Budge present the winner's trophy. Budge became the first player to win all four Grand Slams in a season 60 years ago, but Pele, the Brazilian soccer star who led his country to World Cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970, was clearly the star.
Corretja showed some nifty soccer footwork, something that had been lacking as he tried to move around the tennis court.
"I couldn't handle the wind," Corretja said. "I could never find the place on the court."
Corretja couldn't stop smiling, though. Moya is his good friend, and Moya's parents and Corretja's parents hugged many times in the players' box, and Moya and Corretja hugged many times LTC on the court.
"In the final, when you play a friend, it is not easy to play a brilliant match," Moya said. "I think I played a good match. I was with a lot of confidence. I took risks. Maybe we made more mistakes than we're used to doing, but I think I played a good match and that's what counts."
Corretja seemed to have hope briefly in the second set. He managed an early service break -- in the third game, when Moya made two uncharacteristic forehand errors. But that brief advantage lasted only as long as it took Moya to win the fourth game. He got the break right back when he blasted a forehand return up the line and past Corretja's swiveling head.
"After I lost the second set," Corretja said, "I just thought it was really difficult for me to continue to focus on the court. Too many unforced errors; too tough to make a comeback."
Corretja had survived a 5-hour, 31-minute match against Hernan Gumy in the tournament, and the prospect of another marathon appeared to be too much.
For Moya, the joy he was feeling was impossible to explain, he said.
"You have to feel it. You have to be there," he said. "The feelings I'm having right now are unbelievable."
After winning his first Grand Slam title, Moya looked ahead. But not too far. He figures that Wimbledon, which begins June 22, and in which he has won only one match in two tournaments, is still for him "a learning experience."
"My next goal," he said, "will be the U.S. Open."
NOTES: In the women's doubles final, second-seeded Martina Hingis and Jana Novotna defeated top-seeded Lindsay Davenport and Natasha Zvereva, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4). In the men's doubles final, which was postponed by rain on Saturday, top-seeded Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis fended off unseeded Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Match statistics of the men's French Open final:
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Moya .. Corretja
Aces ... .. .. .. .. .. .. 5 .. .. .. 1
Double faults ... .. .. .. 0 .. .. .. 3
Pct. first serve ... .. . 55 .. .. . 52
Unforced errorsv ... .. . 45 .. .. . 39
Break points . .. .. .. . 19 .. .. .. 9
Breaks of serve . .. .. .. 6 .. .. .. 2
Total points won ... ... 107 .. .. . 88
Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes
Pub Date: 6/08/98