Keep your eye on The Magician

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It can only be good when your nickname is "The Magician," which is the case for rising Argentine Guillermo Coria.

South America has produced a boatload of talented young players over the past few years (see also Gustavo Kuerten), but none are more talented than the 19-year-old from Venado Tuerto.

The slick clay-courter has been climbing steadily this season, so much so that he's an impressive 12th in the all-important ATP Champions Race.

Coria has been dubbed The Magician, or El Mago, because he can simply do just about anything with his tennis racquet and a ball. Watch him between points and you might catch him balancing the ball or juggling it on his Prince frame. And during points, you'll see him swatting unreturnable groundstrokes to all corners of the playing surface.

Guillermo Coria
The 5-foot-9, 143-pound Coria is a solid 23-9 this season.
The boy who plays a man's game of tennis has already appeared in a pair of finals this season, winning a title in the resort town of Vina del Mar, Chile. His other championship match came at the Mallorca Open in Spain, where Coria lost to Spanish crowd favorite Alberto Martin in three sets, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6.

The kid with the shoulder-length hair and backwards baseball hat hasn't always been as happy as he is this year.

"I had many moments when I thought about quitting," said Coria. "But I managed those moments well, and now I am very happy, with a lot of will to play."

Fans are typically mesmorized by his flashy strokes and trademark celebration. When Coria wins a match, he drops to one knee and points his index finger to the heavens, much like Chilean soccer star Marcelo Salas.

Coria himself is a fine footballer, and a fanatic of the South American team River Plate, whose shirt colors he wears as an alternative to tennis clothes.

But it was tennis that captured his heart as a youngster, and the Argentine is starting to live out his dream.

"Tennis is a very healthy and beautiful sport," said Coria. "I really like it and I am very thankful that I am able to play this game."

Coria and the ATP's various "New Balls Please" players represent the future of the sport.

When he titled in Vina del Mar, Coria stopped fellow Argentine Gaston Gaudio in the clay-court final in only his seventh ATP-level event. With the big victory in Chile, he became the third teenager to title on tour this year, joining fiery Aussie star Lleyton Hewitt and Switzerland's young gun, Roger Federer.

The 5-foot-9, 143-pound Coria is a solid 23-9 this season after suffering a disappointing loss against fellow South American, Ecuadorian Nicolas Lapentti, in the second round of last week's Tennis Masters Series- Rome. Lapentti avenged last month's first-round loss at the hands of Coria in Estoril, Portugal. Coria did, however, manage to upset rising American Jan- Michael Gambill, 7-5, 6-4, in the opening round in Rome, prompting the Argentine to say, "It is great to be playing in this Tennis Masters Series [Rome]. Last year I was playing in Futures and Challengers, watching Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg on TV. And it feels great to beat Gambill, he was in the final of the Ericsson Open and he's a seeded player."

Despite his success to this point in 2001, Coria has yet to beat a big-name player. His biggest match of the year came against the current "King of Clay," world No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil. "Guga" humbled El Mago in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2, in the semifinals at the prestigious TMS-Monte Carlo, but by reaching the round of four in Monaco, Coria served notice that he's gonna be around for a while, battling the world's best for his fame and fortune.

Coria turned pro just last year, and with a good portion of the clay-court season still ahead of us, he could soon find himself in the world Top 10 with continued quality play on his beloved dirt. No doubt he would also like to improve upon his 2-2 career Grand Slam record at the grandaddy of all clay- court events later this month -- the French Open. Coria made his Roland Garros debut last year, going 1-1 with a second-round loss against veteran South African Wayne Ferreira in south Paris. His other Grand Slam appearance came at this year's Australian Open, where he suffered a second- round setback against Spain's Alex Calatrava.

The only knock against Coria is that he needs to improve his first serve, which currently lacks the serious pop required to consistently beat the big boys. If he can add that weapon to his already-solid arsenal, The Magician will increase his ability to make opponents disappear.

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