Costa the best value in Open contest

SPORTS BETTING
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The Independent Online
He is the No1 seed, and his name is the first out of the computer when they print the world rankings, but as Pete Sampras sets out in search of his first French Open title this morning, the Tote will happily lay you 16-1 that he will emerge victorious in a fortnight's time.

Surely, the top seed can never have received such a dismissive quote before the start of a major tournament, but even at those odds, it is very difficult to make a case for Sampras. Quite apart from the problems he always encounters on clay, the recent death of Tim Gullikson, his coach and close friend, a niggling back injury and a fiendish draw all count against him.

Even his first-round match, against the world No 31 Magnus Gustafsson, is no walkover, while Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Sergi Bruguera and Alberto Costa are other potential obstacles just to reach the final. There, of course, he is seeded to meet the defending champion and clay-court specialist, Thomas Muster.

Yet Muster too is impossible to support at a top price of 2-1 (also Tote). These, remember, are his odds to win seven matches, which makes him around 1-6 for each contest, hardly value when the Austrian is carrying an ankle injury.

Agassi's troubled preparation for the only Grand Slam he has not won does not inspire confidence, and certainly not at the 5-1 on offer (once again with the Tote).

At 10-1 (you guessed it, the Tote), Michael Chang, the beate finalist last year, seems sure to give punters a run for their money, though a semi-final against either Muster or Marcelo Rios would probably find him out. The solution is an each-way bet in the other half of the draw, and the player who makes most appeal is Alberto Costa, the No12 seed.

The 20-year-old proved a match for the best on clay when he took Muster to five sets in the quarter-finals 12 months ago and is well worth an interest at 12-1. To the considerable embarrassment of the "Big Three", the only firm offering that price is the Tote.

Odds on the women's singles will not be available until this morning, due to doubts about the participation of Monica Seles.

FRENCH OPEN MEN'S SINGLES (Roland Garros, starts today): Best prices: 2-1 Muster (T), 5-1 Agassi (T), 10-1 Chang (T), 12-1 Costa (T), 14-1 Kafelnikov (C), Rios (C), 16-1 Sampras (T), 25-1 Courier (T), 33-1 Brugera (H), Ivanesivic (L,T), Medvedev (H,L,T), Moya (L), 40-1 bar.

FIRST DIVISION PLAY-OFF FINAL (Wembley, today): 5-4 Crystal Palace (C,H), 9-5 Leicester (L,T), 9-4 draw (H,L,T).

C Coral, H Hills, L Ladbroke, T Tote.

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