Originally created 05/18/98

Costa defaults, handing Rios Italian title



ROME -- The band played, the anthems were sung and the trophies were carried on court. Then came the announcement that Albert Costa had withdrawn from Sunday's final because of a wrist injury, handing the Italian Open title to Marcelo Rios.

It was the second consecutive tour final disrupted by injury, but the first since 1989 that not a single shot was hit in anger. That was when Thomas Muster, struck by a car the previous night, could not play a final against Ivan Lendl at Key Biscayne, Fla.

Ironically, Costa had benefited just a week ago when his opponent withdrew in the third set at Hamburg, Germany, giving Costa the title.

Costa hurt his right wrist when he fell during his semifinal Saturday. But he said it only began hurting at night and the final decision was only made a half-hour before match time.

The 10,000 fans at the Foro Italico's center court, unaware up to then, whistled derisively when told there would be no final.

"I just couldn't play," Costa said. "I couldn't hit the ball with power, I couldn't play my game."

"It's not very nice to win a title like that," Rios said, adding that Costa did the right thing to avoid more serious injury.

The Italian Open was Rios' fourth title of the year. He got $350,000.

Rios lost his serve only once during the tournament and did not drop a set, displaying the stinging strokes and all-court game that enabled him to briefly wrest the No. 1 ranking from Pete Sampras.

He dropped back to No. 3 when a left elbow injury sidelined him for five weeks.

Rios' recent play and acknowledged talent will make him a leading favorite in the French Open, which begins May 25. The results of the Grand Slam event could shuffle the top rankings, now headed by Sampras, Petr Korda and Rios.

Until stopped by his injury, Costa had won 11 straight matches. Ranked No. 20, he was unseeded at Rome but always considered a threat on European red clay.

The tournament medical director, Giuseppe Di Giacomo, said it could take up to three weeks for Costa's injury to heal. That puts Costa's participation at the French Open in doubt.