Edberg resumes old service

Tennis
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The Independent Online
There were moments earlier this year when poor performances prompted Stefan Edberg to consider whether he should cut short his valedictory tour of the world's courts. His smiles at the Italian Open here yesterday conveyed how wise he was to continue.

The 30-year-old Swede made short work of Goran Ivanisevic, the No 2 seed, to advance to the quarter-finals, 6-4, 6-2, to the delight of a capacity Centre Court crowd of 10,200.

Campaigning unseeded nowadays, and with a current world ranking of No 54, the former Wimbledon champion had not enjoyed success against a top 10 opponent since beating Alberto Berasategui at Indian Wells, California, 14 months ago, when the Spaniard was No 7.

For devotees of the Foro Italico, the opportunity to see Edberg has been rare. This is only his third visit to the clay courts of Rome during a 13-year career, and he acknowledges that he has been remiss. "I realise I made a mistake now," he said. "I am playing very well here. The courts suit me; they are playing quite quick, especially when we have sunshine.''

In recent years the courts have been speeded up to attract attacking players such as Edberg and Ivanisevic, who was runner-up to Jim Courier in 1993. Pete Sampras, it will be remembered, defeated Boris Becker in the 1994 final.

Ivanisevic was not exactly in the mood to consider such details. The big-serving Croat has begun to view every rectangle with a net in the middle with deep suspicion, whatever the surface. "I cannot find my game," has been his lament ever since a run of early-season form which reaped four titles was interrupted when he awoke with a pain his neck on the day he was due to play Andre Agassi in final of the Lipton Championships in March.

Edberg's fortunes have improved since the Lipton, partly because he decided to have a cortisone injection to ease a wrist injury. "I would say the wrist is 80 per cent what it can be, but it's been better the last few weeks," he said.

He was undoubtedly fit enough grasp the opportunity to level his head- to-head with Ivanisevic, 8-8. The Swede now leads 3-1 on clay, although it is five years since they last met on the surface, and two years since Edberg won their last match, indoors at the ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt.

Edberg has now reached the last eight for the second consecutive time after an absence of 11 years. "There is always going to be tension when I play, but in the last month I have felt more comfortable with myself after a really bad start to the year," Edberg said. "The key is that I'm feeling good and I'm moving well on the court.''

Thomas Muster, the defending champion, hardly seemed to be moving at all in the opening set of his third-round match against Todd Martin. The American fifth seed swept ahead, 6-1, in only 19 minutes, and seemed likely to cause the upset of the tournament when he broke for 3-2 and again for 4-3 in the second set.

A combination of Muster's fighting qualities and Martin's loss of nerve - "I seemed to move out of my comfort zone" - enabled the Austrian to recover and win, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2. In the quarter-finals he plays the No 7 seed, Marcelo Rios, of Chile, whom he defeated in the Barcelona final last month.

Before yesterday's match, Martin reprimanded Muster for his intemperate tone in criticising American players. During the contest, the Austrian was warned for an audible obscenity and penalised a point for making an obscene gesture with his racket. Otherwise, it was all peace and light.

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