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Puerta, Davydenko take five-set route to semifinals


PARIS - It was the latest of dozens of long rallies yesterday, with Mariano Puerta driving Willy Canas deep into the corners and Canas making one save after another - until finally he missed and leaned on the net, catching his breath.

His childhood friend and conqueror in the French Open quarterfinals came up and delivered a few words.

"We decided to stop running. We'd had enough," Puerta said after his 6-2, 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.

But the two didn't stop until Canas, who had fought off two match points with forehand passes, raced around his backhand to take one last forehand shot down the line.

The ball slapped the net tape, skipped up and, after most of the 14,000 at the Philippe Chatrier stadium court let out a collective gasp, fell back, leaving Puerta in the semifinals.

Tomorrow, he'll play Russia's Nikolay Davydenko, who also sweated out a five-setter, beating Spain's Tommy Robredo, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. Both men looked exhausted at the end.

"Feeling is ... I don't know," Davydenko said. "No feeling."

Two days earlier, Robredo needed to put on a highly concentrated performance to beat the other major Russian in the draw, No. 3 seed Marat Safin, in five.

Yesterday, Robredo stayed almost exclusively on the baseline, trying to outlast Davydenko. Instead, he hit 85 unforced errors.

The match had its interesting moments, but not nearly as many as in the show put on by the two Argentines. It was a particularly happy moment for Puerto, who plays almost exclusively on clay.

In January 2004, an appeals board upheld Puerta's nine-month suspension for testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol, even though the board agreed his doctor had prescribed it for the player's asthma.

As with other players who have been suspended, it was Puerta's responsibility to have any drug, even if dispensed by a doctor, pre-approved.

The suspension was retroactive to October 2003, but Puerta missed the French Open, his favorite Grand Slam tournament, and played only one match in the 2004 season.

"I don't really feel bitter. I've almost forgotten it," he said of the penalty, which cost him ranking points and $5,000 in prize money. "I had to work very hard to come back, and my way of playing requires consuming a lot of energy."

Twelve of his past 13 tournaments have been on clay, and all 10 of the events he has played in this year have been on clay, possibly giving him an edge over other top players in the draw.

In 10 years on the ATP Tour, Puerta is 0-3 on grass, 3-6 on indoor surfaces, 10-24 on hard courts and 102-71 on clay.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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