Muster rallies to defend clay

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The Independent Online

Thomas Muster, the Austrian clay court specialist who lost his world No 1 ranking last weekend, criticised growing American domination which he believes is killing the clay court game.

"The money comes from Europe, but we are used by the Americans," said Muster, speaking at the Spanish Open in Barcelona after taking under an hour to advance into the semi-finals 6-1, 6-1 at the expense of Spain's Francisco Roig. "If Sampras and Agassi won twice in Paris perhaps they'd start to like clay, like [Jim] Courier."

Muster also criticised scheduling which means that all the major clay- court tournaments are played in a period of less than two months each spring. "The European clay court is dying because we're getting squeezed. We've only got eight weeks to make our point." he said. "They're taking more and more Europeans out of the tour and putting in Americans."

Proposing a series of schedule changes, Muster suggested moving the Hamburg clay-court event from its present early May slot to a date after Wimbledon, which ends in July.

Muster also berated fellow European players, who he called "stupid" and "selfish" for not discussing the situation. "We'll have to get together more. The Americans are talking 24 hours a day," he said.

The No 2 seed Michael Chang was knocked out of the quarter-finals of the Japan Open in a straight-sets defeat by his unseeded compatriot ,Richey Reneberg. In the semi-finals Reneberg meets the German, Hendrik Dreekmann, who beat Richard Krajicek, of the Netherlands, 7-6, 7-6.

Pete Sampras, who beat Chang in the Hong Kong final last weekend to regain the world No 1 ranking, dropped a set before beating the 10th seed Guy Forget, of France, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the semi-finals, where he meets Mark Woodforde, of Australia, who defeated Sweden's Thomas Enqvist 6-4, 7-5.

In the women's event, the top seed, Kimiko Date, advanced to tomorrow's final with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over her Japanese compatriot, Ai Sugiyama. The other women's semi-final was put back to today after being delayed by rain.