Tennis / Australian Open: Edberg back in the swing: Second seed edges into the men's last eight while Courier and Sampras maintain American challenge

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The Independent Online
AS WITH most things, Stefan Edberg takes one jinx at a time, which may help explain how the Swede came through his latest crisis and advanced into tomorrow's quarter- finals of the Australian Open.

The organisers had feared the worst. After losing Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic before the event, and Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl in the opening round, they fretted over almost hourly bulletins concerning Edberg's injured back.

Channel 7 television replayed footage of the Swede's cruel history of retirements at Flinders Park - the torn stomach muscle which ended an impressive challenge in the third set of the final against Lendl in 1990, and the back trouble which cost him a place in the last eight in 1989 after he had painfully served out the final points to defeat Pat Cash in the fourth round - updated with a clip showing his tentative movements during a fitness test yesterday.

Several elements conspired to ensure that Edberg's participation would continue, at least until he plays a compatriot, Christian Bergstrom, to decide who goes through to Friday's semi-finals.

The trainers, Bill Norris and Alex Stober, gave the No 2 seed extensive treatment for two days, from the moment he was unable to lift himself from the table after Saturday's third-round match against Amos Mansdorf, during which he experiencing a spasm in the lower back. The conditions for his fourth-round match were fine and cool, and his French opponent, Arnaud Boetsch, capitulated, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.

'It was like a dream,' Edberg said. 'It couldn't have gone any better because a) I played well and won in straight sets, and b) it only took an hour and a half. It's just too good.'

While Boetsch's performance gave no indication of how he came to be ranked as high as No 26 in the world - 'I'm so ashamed to play like that on the Centre Court,' he said - Edberg deserves credit for being able to adjust his game to suit his circumstance.

The former Wimbledon champion reduced the force of his serve without sacrificing spin and placement, and slowly coaxed his body into a comfortable rhythm until he was ready to stoop for volleys and leap to play overheads. By the second set, only the slight bulge of a body belt betrayed that 'Steady Eddie' was nursing an injury.

'When I came out I wasn't sure if I would finish the match or not,' Edberg said. 'I didn't try to do anything fancy. All I tried to do was play very, very simple. I knew I couldn't go out and hit full speed on my serve, so all I tried to do was hit a lot of first serves. Every time he served, all I did was hit them back into court. He gave me a lot of free points, which really helped. Sometimes when you have a problem like this, you sort of get very relaxed, because you feel you've got nothing to lose. That's what happened today.'

Whether Edberg will be so relaxed when he faces Bergstrom is another matter. The 25-year-old from Gothenburg, ranked No 62, has accounted for two top 10 players (Lendl and Wayne Ferreira) as well as the No 19 (Henrik Holm) on his way to the quarter-finals, and is determined to improve upon three straight defeats by Edberg. Their only previous match in a Grand Slam championship was at Wimbledon in 1990, Edberg winning,

6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

'I feel confident because I've played a lot of tough matches in Adelaide and Sydney and I know before the match that I have a pretty good chance,' Bergstrom said after defeating the 10th- seeded Ferreira, 6-4, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4. 'I don't think many people would bet on me, but I'm going to enjoy the next match. I just go out there with a smile on my lips and try my best.'

Edberg, who won the Australian title at Kooyong in 1985 and 1987, and was runner-up to Jim Courier here last year, trusts that he will not have to suppress a grimace on this occasion. 'If I continue the progress I've made in the past two days, there's a very good chance I'll play my next match,' he said.

Bergstrom expects to see him on the opposite side of the net. 'Everyone in this tournament has problems with blisters, with feet, with ankles, with everything,' he said. 'It's bad luck for Stefan if it's a very serious injury, but I heard he beat Boetsch pretty easily, so he must be in pretty good shape.'

Pete Sampras, who continues to impress in spite of sore shins, called a trainer to treat one of his toes during a fourth-round win against a fellow-American, MaliVai Washington, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. The third seed will play Brett Steven, a 23-year-old New Zealander, ranked No 71, in the quarter-finals.

Washington, the 13th seed, was fortunate to be seeing the ball as well as he did. A hotel maid washed his contact lenses down the drain on Saturday, and they were replaced only an hour before his third-round match against Jonathan Stark. 'I told the maid what I thought about the whole situation,' Washington said.

Guy Forget defeated Kelly Jones, an American qualifier, 6-3, 7-6, 7-6, and now plays Michael Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion. Their last encounter, at the Hopman Cup in Perth at the beginning of the month, was won by Stich, who out-aced the Frenchman 31-1.

Stich, whose bad temper has been a focus of the championships, has written an apology to the line judge who was subjected to the verbal abuse that brought the German a dollars 2,000 ( pounds 1,315) fine after his third-round match against Jason Stoltenberg. She is Rosalyn Kane, from Melbourne, aged 16 and a half.

In the other quarter-final, Courier, the defending champion, plays Petr Korda, the Czech he defeated to retain his French Open title last June. If the championship develops into a survival of the fittest, Courier is the man to fear. As Sampras said: 'He stays back, so it's not quite as tough on the body. He's about as fit as you can be.'

The march of the Maleeva sisters was halted in the fourth round: Katerina was defeated by Jennifer Capriati, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, and Manuela lost to Mary Joe Fernandez, 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 (Magdalena was eliminated by Steffi Graf on Sunday).

Julie Halard produced the upset of the round, defeating the sixth seed, Conchita Martinez, of Spain, 6-4, 6-3. This atoned for French disappointment at Nathalie Tauziat's limp performance against Monica Seles, the defending champion. Seles won, 6-2, 6-0, raising the decibels in only two games: when breaking for 3-1 in the first set and for 2-0 in the second set.

In the first round of the junior event, Britain's Jamie Delgado had an escape when Joe Sirianni, an Australian qualifier, double- faulted on match point. Delgado capitalised, winning 6-4, 5-7, 9-7.

----------------------------------------------------------------- MEN'S QUARTER-FINAL LINE-UP ----------------------------------------------------------------- J Courier (US) v P Korda (Cz) M Stich (Ger) v G Forget (Fr) B Steven (NZ) v P Sampras (US) C Bergstrom (Swe) v S Edberg (Swe) -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)