Bruguera and Chang advance without adulation

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The Independent Online
TENNIS

JOHN ROBERTS

reports from Paris

One thought may console Andre Agassi as he nurses a hip injury back home in Las Vegas. In 1992, he hardly picked up a racket between losing to Jim Courier in the semi- finals of the French Open and starting his glorious run to the Wimbledon title.

That was by choice. At the time, Agassi had yet to win a Grand Slam championship and did not rate his prospects of making the breakthrough at Wimbledon highly. He was content to rest for two weeks and rely on his co-ordination of eye and hand.

On this occasion, the world No 1 has little option. The injury, which affected his performance when losing to the Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the quarter-finals here on Tuesday, threatens his participation at Wimbledon in 19 days' time.

Leaving Sergi Bruguera, Michael Chang, Thomas Muster and Kafelnikov to dispute the French title, Agassi will have a complete rest over the next four days in the hope that there is an improvement in the right hip reflexer muscle.

Bill Norris, the ATP Tour trainer who treated Agassi during the Kafelnikov match, considers that "if everything is as it was on Tuesday, he'll need 10 days to two weeks to recover; possibly 10 days would be the closest."

That would leave Agassi with only a week to prepare for Wimbledon.

"He's never really had any injuries which I've seen, except for his hamstring in 1990 and the wrist in 1993, which was a wear-and-tear injury," Norris said. "I don't really know how fast his recovery time is from something like this."

A thoroughly depressed Agassi had an earnest conversation with Norris on leaving the court here after Kafelnikov had ended the American's sequence of 18 consecutive Grand Slam wins from the start of last year's United States Open through the Australian championships in January. "He was close to tears," Norris said. "He told me, 'I'm going to get back and ready for Wimbledon'. He's really determined."

Determination is likely to be the deciding factor among the men Agassi left behind to finish the duelling here at Stade Roland Garros. Bruguera, the champion for the past two years, and Chang, who in 1989 here became the youngest winner of a Grand Slam men's singles title (17 and three months), advanced yesterday to meet in the semi-finals, Muster and Kafelnikov having already made their appointment.

Not least of their considerations is the mood of the spectators, who have become increasingly responsive to the behaviour of the players since Bruguera's five-minute protest over a line call during his fourth round match against Magnus Larsson.

Bruguera feared a hostile reception when he returned to the Centre Court yesterday, but he managed to negotiate a laborious win against the Italian Renzo Furlan, 6-2, 7-5, 6-2, with a minimum of jeering. The Spaniard was greeted by boos from a section of the crowd, but the only other occasion he incurred further displeasure was when he played a drop-shot to win a point shortly after Norris had applied a support to Furlan's injured left thigh.

Bruguera explained that he simply wanted to explore the extent of his opponent's problem, which seemed a sensible thing to do. "I thought he couldn't run, and it was a sort of test," he said.

Furlan, who failed to convert seven break points in losing the opening five games, did not blame the nagging injury for his defeat. If anything, the Italian's physical problems had a bigger affect on Bruguera.

"I saw he was hurt and I thought he couldn't run any more, and then I relaxed too much," the Spaniard said. "I thought he was going to default, so I stopped my legs, and he started playing well."

Chang also managed to fall foul of the crowd, by allowing professionalism to overrule a sense of humour. He declined to indulge in a handshake proffered by his opponent, Adrian Voinea, who had just halted a losing sequence of 13 consecutive games after failing to convert two set points at 5-4 in the opening set. Voinea, the 20-year-old Romanian qualifier who eliminated Boris Becker in the third round, had amused the crowd by waving his arms in the air in mock triumph, and they did not appreciate Chang's reluctance to join in the fun.

"I actually thought he was conceding the match," Chang said, adding that he was not inclined to participate in antics which might break his concentration. The result: 7-5, 6-0, 6-1.

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