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Women provide the drama

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Carlos Moya and Alex Corretja ended the French Open on a happy note: two buddies smiling and hugging, then knocking around a soccer ball with Pele on center court.

Still, the men's final, won by Moya over a shakier and less versatile Corretja, was an anticlimax. This year, the drama was on the women's side, and much of it came before the final weekend.But the last two days did make one thing clear: Spanish players are expanding their dominance on the red clay of Roland Gar-ros. And at age 21, Moya seems to have the brightest future of them all.

He stormed into prominence in the 1997 Australian Open, getting all the way to the final before losing to Pete Sampras.

Though the Spaniards grow up on clay courts, Moya has a better serve and more varied weapons than some of his compatriots, and that showed in his decisive 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory Sunday, a win that boosted him to No. 5 in the world in the rankings released today.

"If I win Wimbledon, maybe I'm No. 1, huh?" Moya said with a wink, knowing his chances of winning on grass are remote.

One thing is obvious about the Spanish players: They are good friends, and that solidarity helps them on the tour. They travel together, play video games together, practice together, party together - and win together.

The players' box, often a site of tense coexistence between rival clans, looked like a family picnic on Sunday. Moya's family hugged Corretja's when the match was over. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, crowned women's champion a day earlier, was there, and so was her mother. Everybody was happy.

In fact, loser Corretja was pretty cheery, too. He hurdled the net after the match to congratulate his friend.

"I'm really happy because I've been playing well for the last two weeks, and I lost to a really good friend of mine," he said.

Fans reserved their biggest cheers for Pele, who presented the winner's trophy and then joined both players for an impromptu romp with a soccer ball.

"The feelings I'm having right now are unbelievable," said Moya, who won $650,000. "I cannot explain with words. You have to feel it. You have to be there."

Moya, seeded 12th, and Corretja, seeded 14th, reached the final after the men's field was decimated early in the tournament. Top-seeded Sampras lost in the second round and No. 2 Petr Korda in the first. Moya ousted No. 3 Marcelo Rios in the quarterfinals.

The women's field, by contrast, stayed strong until the end and had more than its usual share of compelling stories.

There was the curious meltdown of Martina Hingis, who may be developing a Sampras-like allergy to the Parisian clay.

Hingis lost last year in the final to Iva Majoli. She then won the next three Grand Slam tournaments, but back here this year, she folded in the semis to a newly energized Monica Seles.

"I just probably put too much pressure on myself," she said. "I really want to win this tournament."

Sampras probably would advise her to stop wanting it.

He, too, has never won here, and he's been trying a lot longer. This year, his ninth try, was his worst loss ever. He went down in the second round to a 21-year-old from Paraguay, Ramon Delgado, ranked 97th in the world.

Another interesting development was the fast-improving Williams sisters. They both did well here - Venus reached the quarterfinals before losing to Hingis and Serena lost a tight fourth-round match to eventual champion Sanchez Vicario.

Hingis' easy defeat of Venus Williams put to rest, for a moment, the talk of a rivalry for the ages. But there is time; both are only 17.

The 16-year-old Serena Williams, meanwhile, looked strong until she came within two points of victory over Sanchez Vicario. Then she folded, showing she's got some more maturing to do.

The best story among the women, though, was Seles. She came to Roland Garros to get away from painful memories at home of her late father and coach, Karolj Seles, who died three weeks ago of cancer.

She might have been expected to lose early, given how distracted she had been. Instead, she turned adversity into her ally.

Her straight-set victory over Hingis, powered by laser-sharp groundstrokes that constantly brushed the lines, was one of the best matches of the tournament.