Marques makes his mark in pay dispute

TENNIS
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The Independent Online
TENNIS

JOHN ROBERTS

reports from Estoril

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a professor of law, a former government minister and one of Portugal's foremost political analysts, happens to be a tennis nut.

Shortly before play commenced at the Estoril Open yesterday, he ushered a group of students into a block of seats overlooking the Centre Court and conducted a lecture. That done, he was free to watch Henri Leconte and Andrei Medvedev.

The peripatetic professor seems just the man to arbitrate in a dispute which threatens to undermine the Portuguese game.

Portugal's players have not been fully rewarded for tilting Britain towards Davis Cup oblivion a year ago, and Nuno Marques, the country's No 1, is on strike from international competition.

Without him, Portugal are in danger of following the Brits into the third division of the Davis Cup (Group II of the Euro/ African Zone). But here at the Estoril Open, Marques is being fted as a national hero.

The disappointment of last weekend's Davis Cup defeat in Hungary, on a fast indoor court which would have suited the left-handed Marques' attacking style, has been overtaken by what is hailed as the most impressive individual result in the history of Portuguese tennis.

In the opening round of Europe's initial clay-court tournament of the season, Marques eliminated the top seed, Alberto Berasategui, 6-4, 7-5. The Spanish world No 7 virtually lives on clay. He won seven titles on the red stuff last year and was runner-up to his compatriot, Sergi Bruguera, at the French Open.

As the first Portuguese ever to beat a player in the world top 10, Marques, currently No 133, would appear to have strengthened his hand in the pay dispute.

Marques says he is owed 3m escudos (about £13,000) from a deal agreed with the Portuguese tennis federation for participating in international team events and the national championships in 1994.

It may be remembered that Marques won his two "live" singles, against Mark Petchey and Jeremy Bates, when Portugal defeated Britain, 4-1, in his home town, Oporto, last March.

The federation, which owes the players a total of 15m escudos, said it cannot pay because it has not received funds promised by the government.

Marques requested that the debt be paid in a lump sum as soon as the government released the funds. The federation insisted that the debt be repayed monthly. While team-mates such as Emanuel Couto and Joao Cunha- Silva agreed to join the instalment plan, Marques refused a new contract.

The situation needs to be resolved before Romania visit Oporto for a relegation play-off in September. The Romanians were responsible for completing Britain's ignominy by winning a play-off in Manchester last July.

Marques is adamant. "They [the federation] will have to change a lot of things if they want me to come back," he said. "A lot has to do with money, but a lot has to do with attitude."

Professor de Sousa had an interesting day. Leconte, a wild card, ran a gamut of lows and highs before losing to Italy's Andrea Gaudenzi, the fourth seed, 6-1, 7-5, and Medvedev, the second seed, had to save a match point before disabusing Jordi Arrese, of Spain, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3.

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