Tennis: Becker again falls foul of the red stuff: Former Wimbledon champion continues to drag his feet on clay as Rosset revels in slow surface

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IN Boris Becker's case, clothes evidently do not maketh the man. Here was the dollars 20m endorsement package in his new shirt, new shorts and new shoes, facing the same old problem of looking out of place on a clay court.

To be fair, the former Wimbledon champion could have had better luck in his opening - and closing - match at the Monte Carlo Open yesterday than to be drawn against Marc Rosset, who won the Olympic gold medal on a similar slow surface in Barcelona. Even so, a 7-6, 6-3 defeat by the lanky Swiss added further woe to Becker's record on the red stuff: 10 opening-round losses in 36 clay-court events.

Having withdrawn from five consecutive tournaments because of ill health, Becker continues to experience difficulty in obtaining the match play necessary to raise his form and fitness. His only win in the past two months was against the Brazilian Jaime Oncins in Nice last week.

Not only did Becker's forehand, in particular, let him down yesterday, but he could not even console himself by being impressed by the form of his opponent. 'Marc didn't put a ball in the court in the first set until 4-2 or 5- 3,' he said. Rosset would not dispute this. In contrast to Becker, his forehand was the only segment of his game in which he had confidence. 'I think it is good if you win, but it is not good for the future if you played with only one shot,' Rosset said.

Becker has not lacked advice over the years on how to improve his prospects on clay. 'Maybe movement on the surface is a bit more difficult for him because he is a bit more heavy than other players,' Rosset ventured. 'Players like Becker believe that they must play from the baseline on clay. I think if he would play his own game, go more up to the net, it would be easier for him.'

The memory of some abortive net- rushing in his youth still haunts Becker and amuses opponents who lobbed and passed him at will. 'All the time people tell me I have to play my normal game,' he said, giving his audience a 'not that old stuff again' look. 'They just forget one thing: it is clay; it is not Supreme (a fast indoor carpet). You cannot serve and volley on the first and second serve. You cannot block the shots and come in. You have to work out the point.'

Stefan Edberg, another of the dwindling breed of attacking players, won a strange opening contest yesterday against the capricious Henri Leconte 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. Edberg, the top seed, also experiences technical difficulties on clay and shares with Becker the frustration of failing to complete his collection of Grand Slam honours by winning the French Open.

They virtually destroyed each other in 1989, Edberg winning a strenuous five-set semi-final which left him drained for the final against an inspired Michael Chang. Then, in 1990, when Becker and Edberg were the top seeds in Paris, they suffered ignominy as the first No 1 and No 2 to lose in the first round.

Rod Laver was the last serve-volleyer to win the French Open title, 24 years ago, but then the diminutive Australian left-hander probably could have triumphed on treacle.

'It is really difficult, but not an impossible target,' Edberg said. 'I was close in '89 by playing serve and volley on first and second serve. It would be a dream for me.'

Edberg never has been one to allow ambition to diminish his balanced view of life, and Becker was asked if he envied the Swede's equilibrium. 'I envy him that he is going to be a father soon,' Becker said, 'but apart from that I am quite happy with my character, with my personality. It is true with me that it is always a big deal. That is part of Boris Becker. Stefan Edberg has a completely different career than mine and you cannot compare the two. But envy him? I am glad to be who I am.'

Goran Ivanisevic, the player who humiliated Becker at the 1990 French Open and was runner-up to Andre Agassi at Wimbledon last year, was another of yesterday's losers. The Croatian fourth seed, whose progress has been hampered by injury since the beginning of the year, was defeated by Andrei Cherkasov, of Russia, 6-4, 6-3 and encapsulated his day by hitting the back fence with a smash on match point.

While the spectators were able to appreciate Leconte's entertaining moments and could forgive his errors, they showed no sympathy whatsoever towards his compatriot, Guy Forget. Boos followed the 12th seed's progress from the court following his 6-1, 6-1 defeat by Ulf Stenlund. The 26-year- old Swede, once his nation's brightest junior and a semi-finalist here in 1987, has a world ranking of 313.

Andrei Medvedev, the 18-year-old Ukrainian who has won two titles within the past month, opened with a 6-4, 6-0 win against Tom Nijssen, of the Netherlands. The seventh-seeded Medvedev was not so lucky at the casino, losing dollars 1,000 on the slot machines. 'I didn't care,' he said, 'but it is not that easy putting the money in. It made my shoulder hurt.'

(Photograph omitted)