Sanchez brothers find their feet on clay

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It has been an unsettling week for Spanish players at the Estoril Open. Alberto Berasategui, the top seed, was eliminated in the opening round, as was Carlos Costa, the defending champion, and Jordi Burillo, a qualifier who suffered the indignity of having his name appear on the scoreboard as Burrillo (little donkey).

A stubborn streak prevailed for Spain yesterday, however, when the unseeded Sanchez brothers advanced to the quarter-finals. Javier, ranked No 39 in the world, defeated the sixth-seeded Karel Novacek, 6-3, 6-4, and Emilio, ranked No 102, accounted for the American, Bryan Shelton, 7-6, 6-4.

The Sanchez family have an affinity with Estoril. The 27-year-old Javier won the title in 1988, before it was elevated to mainstream Tour status, and reached the semi-finals last year, when he was defeated by Andrei Medvedev. Emilio, 30 next month, triumphed in 1990 and reached the last four two years ago.

In addition, their sister, Arantxa, won the European girls' Under-16 Championship on these courts in 1986.

Novacek, a semi-finalist at last year's United States Open, approached the net in his first clay-court event of the season, and Javier trawled him in. The Czech ought to have known better, having beaten the younger Sanchez in the quarter-finals here in 1991, when he lost to Sergi Bruguera in the final.

Sanchez's reward is a contest against the No 3 seed, Thomas Muster, one of the most obdurate competitors in the game, who is off and running on his favourite surface. The Austrian has won 23 of his 24 titles on clay, the exception being Adelaide, where he profited on Australia's rubberised concrete in 1990.

Last month, Muster won the Mexico City tournament for the third consecutive year. Though technically a clay-court event, the balls fly so fast at altitude that traditional slow-court tactics tend to be nullified (British players are notoriously vulnerable on clay, and yet Mark Petchey defeated Berasategui there last month and gave Muster a tough match a year ago). The Spanish players are not relishing the prospect of a Davis Cup World Group qualifying match up Mexico way in September.

Yesterday, Muster underlined his mastery of the Argentinian Franco Davin, a fellow left-hander, with a 7-5, 6-1 victory. The Austrian has now won each of their five matches (all on clay), and Davin has failed to win a set in the last three meetings.

Such was Muster's confidence by the closing phase of the match that he delivered an ace timed at 125 mph to serve out to love for 5-1. He has yet to add the Estoril title to his list, having been a quarter-finalist in 1990.

Davin was the runner-up to Emilio Sanchez five years ago, when the Spaniard reached his highest ranking of No 7. Yesterday, still seeking confidence after recovering from a double hernia operation at the beginning of the year, he required five match points to dispatch Shelton. He now plays Portugal's Nuno Marques.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 39

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