Tennis: Bruguera looks for portents in the weather: Sand is kicked in Edberg's face to give Pioline chance of first title in today's rain-delayed final

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The Independent Online
ALAN MILLS continues to wade towards Wimbledon. The All England Club's referee, who had to contend with a hurricane and periodic rainstorms before the Lipton tournament was completed on schedule in Florida last month, was thwarted yesterday by the first deluge at the Monte Carlo Open.

The downpour came on the day of the final between Cedric Pioline, of France, and Sergi Bruguera, of Spain, which was postponed until today, weather permitting. Yesterday, the French Patrol acrobatic formation team, headlights on, made a fly-past of an empty stadium.

Bruguera, the 11th seed, may regard the delay as an omen. He won the title in 1991, defeating Boris Becker when the tournament last stretched to a Monday. The unseeded Pioline will be disappointed that many of his supporters will be back at work when he bids for his first title.

In 1981, the championship was shared by Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Vilas after rain caused play to be abandoned at 5-5 in the opening set. The players were unable to continue the following day because they had commitments in different parts of the world (at one point it was suggested that they finish the match on a court in America).

Play was possible yesterday on Court Two, which has a folding roof but is not ideal for television coverage. Stefan Edberg was able to console himself for Saturday's straights sets defeat by Pioline in the singles semi- finals by partnering Petr Korda to the doubles title, defeating the Dutch pair, Paul Haarhuis and Mark Koevermans, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6.

If the singles final, reduced to the best of three sets, cannot be staged on the Centre Court today, Brugeura and Pioline will play on Court Two - unless the wind gains further strength and threatens the roofing structure.

Yesterday's rain at least allowed the dust to settle after Saturday's gusts, in which the impressive Pioline figuratively kicked sand in Edberg's face, defeating the top seed, 6-4, 6-4. Edberg remains the leading European in pursuit of the Americans, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, at the head of the ATP Tour computer rankings.

Mark Miles, the Tour's chief executive, is conscious of the view expressed by many players and observers that Sampras's elevation to No 1 without winning a Grand Slam title within a 12-month period is an indictment of the ranking system.

Was it not time that the four Grand Slams carried higher ranking points? 'We regularly look at that,' Miles said. 'It was discussed at our board meeting at the beginning of the week and it is not a dead issue. But it is important to remember the history of tennis in the last 15 years. Three times the year-end rankings have produced a No 1 who had not won a Grand Slam during the year. It happened twice with Jimmy Connors and once with John McEnroe. And on two occasions the player ranked No 2 had won two Grand Slam titles.

'Sampras and Courier are very close, I think the rankings reflect Pete's consistency over 52 weeks. We like to focus on the year-end rankings, and the jury's out on Pete and Jim.'

As for Sampras, having ended his recent Far East campaign as the sport's top dog, he is due to compete in Atlanta this week. 'I'm 21, and if I drop down to No 2 over the summer I'm not going to worry about it,' he said. 'I think that it's good and exciting for the fans for them to see a new No 1. When (Ivan) Lendl was No 1 for all those years, I'm not saying it was boring, but I'm saying that it was nice for all the fans to see someone else on top. I don't care. I'm going to try to stay on top for as long as I can.'

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