Muster digs in to uproot Woodforde

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reports from Queen's Club

After all the sniping about Thomas Muster's elevation in the rankings on a platform of clay courts, the Austrian can now point out wryly that he has won more grass-court matches this season than Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi put together.

The leading Americans have yet to set foot here, of course, but Muster's determination to prove that he is not exactly cannon fodder on the fast stuff has already been rewarded with an appearance in the semi-finals of the Stella Artois Championships.

His biggest test so far is likely to come today, when he plays Stefan Edberg, one of the game's greatest exponents of serve and volley. The 30-year-old Swede's revitalised form in his valedictory season continued with a spirited win against the Amercian sixth seed, Todd Martin, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.

It will be Edberg's first semi-final of the year, and the contrast in styles and the gulf in experience on the surface should make for an entertaining contest. Having said that, Edberg, the No 14 seed, has won their seven previous matches.

Muster, starting with his Davis Cup success against South Africa's Marcos Ondruska in Johannesburg in February, has now won four senior matches on grass, the most impressive being yesterday's quarter-final victory against Australia's Mark Woodforde, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Woodforde knows his way round the lawns. Although he has not advanced beyond the fourth round of the Wimbledon singles in 10 attempts, he has won the doubles title for the past three years in partnership with his compatriot, Todd Woodbridge.

Having made the top-seeded Muster look a novice in the opening set, Woodforde was as impressed as everyone else with his opponent's stirring comeback, but complained bitterly about the Austrian's behaviour.

"He was shouting out `faggot' to me, and I did not take kindly to that," Woodforde said. "He started once I was ahead, and kept it up throughout the match. He doesn't do it to the top guys. I don't respect the guy whatsoever. No other player behaves like that.

"He got away with it. The umpire just called the score. If I heard it, the umpire must have heard it. We have a long history of playing each other. He wants to beat me as badly as I want to beat him. I'm upset."

A puzzled Muster denied the accusation. "I can't remember that I said anything to him personally," he said. "I say many things to myself. I call myself many things when I play, but not my opponents. If he has something to complain about, he should say it to me."

Whatever words came to Muster's lips, his grunting was loud and clear as he drove himself into the match, showing the confidence to increase the power of his serves and countering Woodforde's advances to the net with pounding groundstrokes and the occasional deft lob.

Woodforde may have thought he had finally breached the Austrian's resolve when he broke for 3-2 in the third set, but this merely galvansied Muster. He broke back immediately for 3-3 - revelling in a 16-shot rally in the process - and then crucially for 5-3, stranding Woodforde with a lob. Muster even had the audicity to serve the match out with an ace.

Boris Becker, the No 2 seed, continued his rehabilitation after recovering from a thigh injury, advancing to the last four with a 7-5, 6-4 win against Australia's Patrick Rafter.

Both players found difficulty in controlling their shots in the opening set, chiefly because of the windy conditions, but the quality of Becker's play improved once he had gained the initiative. He now plays the fourth- seeded Wayne Ferreira of South Africa, who defeated Michael Stich 6-7, 6-3, 7-6.

Becker, who acknowledges that his career was "born on grass here in London", seems keen to make it official by becoming Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon. The hereditary title has been in Earl Spencer's family since 1744, and Becker may be among the bidders for it when it is put up for auction. "As Earl Spencer hasn't spoken to me personally, I can't talk about it in public," Becker said coyly.

n Gabriela Sabatini has withdrawn from the Wimbldon hampionships because of a pulled stomach muscle.