Tennis: Bruguera's continental shift: King of clay makes a concrete statement of intent to go the distance. Bud Collins reports from Flushing Meadow

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The Independent Online
THE Catalan con-man continues to do his apologetic, ungainly, unappealing - but winning - business on the tarmac Meadow of Flushing.

This is six foot, two-inch Sergi ('I can't play on grass; I can't play on hard court; I can't play on anything but clay') Bruguera, raised on the ruby- toned earth of Barcelona. He keeps grizzling and whingeing about his limitations when exiled beyond the Continent. But, as he recently showed us at Wimbledon, it's all a come-on.

Bruguera, after winning the last two French Opens, has come to terms with himself, and decided to be the compleat anglesman, even if it doesn't mean getting his feet dirty. One of the first to bound into the round of 16 at the US Open yesterday, he out-gritted the thunder-serving German, Marc Goellner, pulling away impressively, 1-6 6-4 6-2 6-7 6-1.

Gangling, grunting, Bruguera presents a laborious picture from which New York customers have been pretty much spared. In five previous momentary visits he had won only three matches, never getting past the second round, fading away suspiciously at the starting gate a year ago.

Escaping Goellner's clutches from 2-4 and two break points in the seventh game of the second set, Bruguera, seeded third, began to percolate and counter the German's serve that flew for 17 aces.

'That was the game. I don't win that, I don't win the match. Then I break him in the next game and my confidence comes. I am so tired flying across oceans,' Bruguera said. 'That is why I prefer Europe. Short trips, familiar food, but I know I have to do better away from the clay. It is really not too hard. You just have to serve and volley more. I am trying.'

Obviously. A swift octopus, running down everything, Bruguera has a deceptively speedy serve and sneaky volley. He now collides with the bullish Thomas Muster, who bellowed and pounded through Thomas Enqvist, 6-0 6-4 6-2.

Muster, seeded 13th, a quarter-finalist in 1993, said, 'I understand how Bruguera felt. Eventually I learned to love this place, but I had to make up my mind to do so. I didn't accept anything when I was young. I didn't accept hard courts or all the noise and confusion here. Like a lot of guys from Europe I came in here with an attitude that everything was wrong. You have to change that attitude. I did. Now you put me on the same court with Bruguera it may take us a week to play. Somebody will have to leave the baseline sometime to win.'

Michael Chang did not have to hang around long for his victory over Jim Grabb, who had to retire with a shoulder injury when losing 6-1 4-1. 'Sometimes if you play a five-set match it can really take its toll on you physically,' Chang said after his 45-minute win. 'Then all of a sudden things start to hurt here and there.' Grabb's things began to hurt here and there when he aggravated the injury that had sidelined him for the past eight months and could then do nothing to fight Chang.

The top women's seed, Steffi Graf, comfortably proceeded past the unseeded Czech Radka Bobkova 6-2 6-3, although at the beginning of the second set she dropped her serve to trail 2-0. The German said she was never unduly worried, but she denied that she viewed the early-round matches as a formality: 'I mean, I had never seen her play, never really seen her on the court before. So these matches are not really that easy. But obviously I have been getting through them pretty quickly, so I am happy with that.'

Andre Agassi, along with Graf one of the few competitors who can still pull a crowd in New York, also won yesterday, dispensing with the South African Wayne Ferreira in straight sets, 7-5 6-1 7-5.

Late on Friday night, the No 1 seed, Pete Sampras had made it to the third round with another straight-sets win, 6-3

6-4 6-4, over a slugging Czech, Daniel Wacek, whom he also beat at Wimbledon.

And Ginger made the spice go out of life fast for Conchita Martinez. That is Ginger Helgeson, an obscure Minnesota blonde, who bounced Martinez from the third round 3-6

6-4 6-1 on Friday. No Wimbledon empress had been treated so rudely here since 1973 when Billie Jean King fell to Julie Heldman in the fourth round.

Was a prospective new face at the top smudged by one botched shot? Did the chance at No 1 - in public perception anyway - vanish when Martinez fluffed an easy smash in the second set? Holding the first set and a break point at 3-3, in the second, Martinez, inside the service line, peered at a puny lob then belted it way wide of the court. 'If I get that point I win,' she said, valiantly holding back the tears. 'After that so many things are in my mind. I can't concentrate.'

Was one of the things the fact that she would look more No 1 than Graf (even if the computer didn't agree) had she added this title to Wimbledon? 'I don't know. It was an easy shot. I missed it. Nobody's perfect; nothing's perfect.'

Appearing lost in a forest of lofty guys and dolls, five foot three-inch Mana Endo clearly wasn't in felling the last of the American contenders, Lindsay Davenport, 6-3 7-6.

Standing a foot taller, No 7 Davenport was frustrated that No 44 Endo kept handling her steaming ground strokes comfortably, poking them back cleverly in the lengthy rallies, making the California teenager reach, reach, reach - and make errors.

Endo decided to try out her English, presenting herself joyfully: 'She's much taller, and . . .' Endo held up a fist to indicate 'stronger' and smiled. 'But a Japanese can do this. Even if I am Japanese they applaud good shots when I make them. So, I feel great here.'

Davenport, who felt not great at all. Like her predecessor as American protege, Jennifer Capriati, she still does not know how to play tennis beyond slugging. She would also do well to lose about 30lb. She promises to do better in both departments, and her faithful hope she isn't a con-woman.

(Photograph omitted)

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