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Costa goes limit; No. 1 Hewitt goes down


PARIS -- When Nicolas Lapentti felt the twinges, felt the muscles in his legs tighten and the pain declare itself, he drank as much liquid as he could hold.

When he began to lose his breath from the pain, he asked for the trainer, who came with bags of ice for his neck and his legs and pills to replace the lost salt.

Finally, when the pain began to make Lapentti think the unthinkable, about quitting his third-round match in the French Open against the defending champion, Alberto Costa, Lapentti quit thinking and began hitting desperation shots -- drop shots, between-the-leg lobs.

He was making them, too, but Lapentti couldn't hit enough of them.

The crowd was on his side. Costa had been, in their eyes and in Lapentti's, a bad sport by complaining to the umpire that Lapentti was taking too much time between points.

"I just didn't think that's very nice from him," Lapentti said later, "because he knew I was in pain and he kept pushing the umpire to call time."

In the end, the umpire didn't need to call time and Costa didn't need to cajole. The cramps did the work as Costa hit easy winners past his immobile opponent.

For the third consecutive match, Costa had needed every bit of five sets to survive and advance. He had lost the first two sets and was down 4-1 in the third, but after 4 hours and 38 minutes, it was Costa who raised his weary hands in triumph, a 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 winner over the dejected Lapentti.

There were five-setters all over Roland Garros yesterday.

Top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt, who is open about his discomfort with playing on clay, squandered a two-set lead and a 3-0 advantage in the fifth set as he fell to Spain's Tommy Robredo, 4-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

Hewitt, who hasn't gotten past the quarterfinals in five tries here, said his serving rhythm was out of whack and that, "I just took my foot off the pedal a little bit at the start of the third and fourth sets."

And 30th-seeded Jarkko Nieminen became only the second Finnish player to reach the round of 16 in a Grand Slam tournament by beating Romanian qualifier Victor Hanescu, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Joining Robredo and Costa in the final 16 were Spanish countrymen Juan Carlos Ferrero and Felix Mantilla. Ferrero, the 2002 runner-up and seeded third, beat 25th-seeded Tim Henman, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2; Mantilla, seeded 20th, defeated yet another Spaniard, Fernando Vicente, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3.

On Friday, fourth-seeded Carlos Moya had won. So five Spanish men are left in the draw.

Lapentti, 26, who splits his time between his native Ecuador and Miami, said he won't soon forget losing his lead and his handle on the match.

"This match is going to be in my memory," he said, "because of two things: I should have closed it out in the fourth set; I should have won it. But also because of the way the crowd supported me and the ovation I had when I left the court."

Lapentti also hit the shot of the tournament -- a backward, between-the-legs lob from behind the baseline that sailed over Costa and landed just inside the baseline. Costa's eyes widened in amazement and the crowd went wild.

Before that shot, Lapentti said, he had heard Costa say, "I'm playing the worst tennis of my life." Lapentti said that was insulting, "not nice." After the lob landed, Lapentti went to his supporters and motioned with his fingers, "That's the way to shut his mouth."

But it didn't help win the match. "I think I lost too much energy after that point," Lapentti said.

In three matches, Costa has played 11 hours and 56 minutes over 15 sets and 148 games.

"Today," Costa said, "I was thinking I was finished in this tournament. If I have to keep playing matches like this, I don't know how far I can go."

Costa also said he wasn't doing anything but trying to get the chair umpire to enforce the rule of 20 seconds between points when he felt Lapentti was stalling. "He was trying to recover," Costa said. "That's perfectly normal. It's up to the referee to say, 'You've got 20 seconds.' Lapentti was taking 35 or even 40 seconds."

Diane Pucin is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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