Bruguera has claim for Paris upgrade

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There is a case to be made for Sergi Bruguera, and not Pete Sampras, to be seeded No 2 behind Andre Agassi for the next Grand Slam championship, the French Open, which starts on Monday week. Not that it will happen.

Unlike Wimbledon, who take cognizance of past form and a penchant for the grass-court game, the French Tennis Federation tends to stick rigidly to the status quo of the world rankings, regardless of a player's aptitude for their slow clay courts.

Bruguera is aiming for a third consecutive French Open title, having curtailed Jim Courier's ambitions of achieving the feat in the 1993 final. The Spaniard, currently ranked No 8, will rise appreciably if he wins the Italian Open here this week, although not sufficiently to threaten the men at the top.

Sampras's defence of the title ended with a straight-sets defeat in the opening round, Tuesday's loss to the Frenchman Fabrice Santoro adding to an ominous odyssey on the European clay.

It could be that the Wimbledon champion will recharge himself and startle Paris with a rare triumph for the serve-volley game. All we can be sure of at this stage is that while Bruguera has the track record, the sport, understandably, is besotted by the Agassi-Sampras rivalry.

The Spaniard's topspin was again seen to good effect on a rain-disrupted day at the Foro Italico, where he reached the third round with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win against the Dutchman Jacco Eltingh.

Bruguera was projected to meet Courier and Sampras in his next two matches. Courier went the way of Sampras, and Richard Fromberg, a useful clay-court performer from Australia, stands between the Spaniard and a quarter-final against Santoro or Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, the 16th seed.

Since recovering from a torn knee ligament, Bruguera has made steady progress from a first-round defeat by Austria's Gilbert Schaller in Barcelona to a quarter-final appearance in Monte Carlo and a semi-final in Hamburg, where he defeated Agassi.

A spectator informed Agassi that he was not impressed, and the American's response, culminating with "Are you going to get a knife out and chase me now?", has brought him a fine of $2,500 (pounds 1,602) for unsportsmanlike conduct. This amounts to one quarter of a per cent of his prize-money for the first five months of the year.

It has been an encouraging week for players who had to come through the pre-qualifying event. The Czech Bohdan Ulihrach, ranked No 84, delivered an upset yesterday, using his baseline skills to defeat Todd Martin, the 10th seed, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

Ulihrach's reward is a third-round match against Thomas Muster, who marked the 600th match of his career with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win against the Dutchman Jan Siemerink. The Austrian has now won 24 consecutive clay-court matches.

Stefan Edberg, paying only his second visit to the championships, gave a lesson in the value of experience to Marcelo Rios, a 19-year-old from Chile. The Swede won 6-3, 6-3, and now plays Corrado Borroni, the Italian qualifier and world No 411, who eliminated Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the first round.