Double acts in vogue on clay

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The Independent Online
Jim Courier was lauded recently for playing doubles as well as singles and keeping alive the spirit of John McEnroe, who used to spread his talent liberally across the two events.

Big names tend to stick to their solo acts nowadays, a habit which is reflected in the allocation of prize-money. With the garish exception of the Jensen brothers, Luke and Murphy, who have made an industry out of bringing an MTV style of fun to the courts, doubles generally fills in the gaps between singles.

Top-liners do occasionally find a reason to indulge in doubles, which is why Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Alberto Berasategui and Richard Krajicek took partners and went into competition with the Jensens here at the Estoril Open.

It is all to do with making tentative moves towards the French Open, the world's premier clay-court championships. Kafelnikov and Krajicek decided to shun the singles here in favour of the doubles because they anticipated battle-weariness after Davis Cup duty at the weekend but did not want to forgo match practice.

For Berasategui, the runner-up in Paris last year, the notion of teaming up with his Spanish compatriot, Carlos Costa, proved fortuitous, as he was eliminated in the first round of the singles by Portugal's Nuno Marques.

Berasategui and Costa are in action today against Kafelnikov and his Russian Davis Cup partner, Andrei Olhovskiy, the top seeds. Krajicek partners Andrei Medvedev, the No 2 seed in the singles, against Trevor Kronemann and David MacPherson.

Krajicek took a similar course a year ago, competing in the Estoril doubles as part of his rehabilitation after an injury. He won a semi-final, in partnership with Menno Oosting, but twisted an ankle on the last point and had to scratch from the final. The following week, Krajicek won the singles title in Barcelona.

Emilio Sanchez is among the busier players here. Having recovered from a double hernia operation in January, he won his first singles match for six months yesterday, saving two match points before defeating the resilient Peruvian Jaime Yzaga.

After spending almost three hours on court for a 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 victory, Sanchez prepared himself for first-round doubles action, partnering Sergio Casal against the Jensens (Luke making his entrance in a Sporting Lisbon football jersey, Murphy favouring - if that's the word - Porto).

Sanchez, who will be 30 next month, is currently ranked No 102 in the world. "When I have to play in qualifying it will be time for me to retire," he said. A player anxious to join the action is Sergi Bruguera, the French Open champion for the past two years, who has not played since damaging knee ligaments in February. He is due to make his return in Barcelona next week, but says he can only perform to 60 per cent of his capability. "I am so far behind with my preparation that I am a little bit worried that it will make a difference to the whole of my clay-court season," he said.