Named after former Argentine great Guillermo Vilas, Coria was handed a tennis racket the day he could walk and was always destined for success. He modeled his game on Andre Agassi and Marcelo Rios while growing up and won the Roland Garros junior title in 1999 defeating his classmate David Nalbandian.
Together would form the core of the Argentinian tennis revolution in the 2000s along with Gaston Gaudio, Guillermoe Canas, Jose Acasuso, Agustin Calleri and Mariano Puerta. As a result, the expectations and focus from his native Argentina and the tennis world was turned on this band of Gauchos.
El Mago – The Magician
Of all the Gauchos, Coria and Nalbandian were the most talented and of course had the most expectation, which they both at times struggled with. While Nalbandian was the first to break through with his Wimbledon run in 2002, Coria emerged after a brief doping controversy in 2003 as one of the tour’s eminent clay-courters. Timing in tennis is everything and for Coria this would be a central theme of his career. Firstly the timing of Nadal‘s arrival on the scene and timing that deserted him on his serve towards the end of his career, both factors which most agree destroyed Coria’s confidence.
It was 2004 that was his golden year, a Nadal-less year and one where he would dominate the European clay court swing and demonstrate that he was more than a clay court grinder, but a player with invention and touch that compensated for his lack of natural power and size at only 5’ 9″ in height.
Gaudio and Nadal
If there were 2 players that had the biggest effect on the loss of confidence that Coria would undergo, it would have to be Gaston Gaudio and Rafael Nadal. There was no love lost between himself and Gaudio, with the Argentine camp splitting into factions in the locker room.
Coria believed Gaudio to be of a privileged stock unlike the more working class upbringing of himself and Nalbandian and so for whatever other reasons, resentment grew and so when they met in the 2004 French Open final, it was more than just a match – it was personal. We know how that match ended. Gaudio, Coria and everyone watching knew that Coria should have closed it out in 3 sets. The rest is history, but the loss not just of a Grand Slam final but to Gaudio as well lingered.
In 2005 he bounced back reaching back-to-back Masters Series finals in Monte Carlo and Rome, but this time he ran into Nadal. In Monte Carlo he lost in 4 tough sets, actually bageling Nadal in the 3rd set, but Rome was even closer, in which Coria had match points. He lost the match 7-6 in the fifth and that was the turning point. What would winning that match done to Coria’s career? What would it have done to Nadal’s. Lots of what-ifs, but it does remind us all that Coria was one of the few players that could match Nadal on clay and for that he deserves as much recognition as his agonizing loss in the French.
Coria on Coria:
“Very good players like Vilas, Clerc have won everything (in tennis) except the Davis Cup. So I want to win the Davis Cup. It’s a different pressure than the grand slams. I play better in that than everybody else.” On Davis Cup
“I think they are a step over the rest – for the moment. They are completely different players from the mind. Not the game.. The difference is in the mind. From the mind, they are different from the rest.” On Nadal and Federer
“When people say that I am the best player on clay right now and compare me to Ferrero and other great players on this surface, it really motivates me and encourages me to play even better.” On the Red Dirt
Others on Coria:
“Let’s be truthful, this isn’t a team, because there’s someone who makes decisions choosing the best for himself. I can understand that a player gets tired and decides to rest before Paris. I also did so on Tuesday against the Czechs but not in the most important match of all. Coria and I were the best team and if we were a real team this wouldn’t have happened.” Gaston Gaudio
Career Titles/Finals: 9
Masters Series Titles/Finals: 2/5
Grand Slam Titles/Finals: 0/1
Win/Loss Record: 216/106
Career High Ranking: 3 (2004)
Finest moment: Winning 5 consecutive clay court tournaments in a 26 match unbeaten run, in 2004
Famous For: Capitulating in the French Open final and never quite recovering but also as one of Argentina’s greatest clay courters since his namesake Guillermo Vilas.
Watch: 5th set highlights vs. Nadal, Rome 2005