Tennis: Chang fails to escape

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BE SEEDED at your peril. That is the message of the first week of the French Open Championships, where yesterday Michael Chang and Todd Martin took the number of men's seeds knocked out in the first three rounds to 10. And with Lindsay Davenport beaten, the casualty rate among the women is only one fewer.

In the bottom half of the men's draw, there is the extraordinary situation of only one seed surviving - Goran Ivanisevic, and he had to come from two sets to love down against Alex Corretja of Spain before making it through to the last 16. Chang, seeded eight, made an equally bad start to his match against the Peruvian Jaime Yzaga, but when he came back to level at two sets all in the manner that has become the trademark of this most resilient of players, it looked as the American would pull off yet another escape.

But Yzaga, a clay-court specialist ranked 27 in the world, thrilled the crowd on the magnificent new Court A with a show of spirit that ultimately outshone even Chang's and brought him victory by 6-2, 6-3, 5-7, 1-6, 7-5. The 26-year-old, junior champion here in 1985, had never before got beyond the third round of the senior event and has only once reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open of 1991.

If the situation was a familiar one to Chang in one way, it wasn't in another. At 5ft 9in, he seems to relish playing men far bigger than himself. But here he was trumped by a player measuring only 5ft 7in, and whose court coverage and rallying skills were formidable. Indeed, so biased were both men's games in this respect that it hardly mattered who was serving - there were 23 breaks in all.

The match reached a pitch of excitement when Yzaga broke to lead 4-3 in the final set and then, with a wonderful drop shot, had Chang serving to stay alive at 3-5. No problem. He did it to love, and then broke Yzaga to 15 to level at

5-5. Another break, this time to 30 when Chang sent a backhand down the line wide, gave Yzaga a second chance at 6-5.

Few people would have bet on him taking it. He got to 30-0, but was pegged back to 30-30. Then a long rally in which Yzaga had the crowd gasping when he hit the line with an over-ambitious backhand before a smash took him to match point. One of his best serves, wide to the backhand, put Chang way out of position. Yzaga dispatched the return and momentarily sank to his knees. It was that kind of achievement.

The American Martin, seeded nine, came unstuck against Magnus Larsson of Sweden, whose 6-7, 6-3, 6-0, 1-6, 6-3 victory took him into the last 16 for only the second time in a Grand Slam career that began in 1989. Yzaga will be his next opponent. An unseeded player is now guaranteed to reach the semi-final, and only Ivanisevic could stop one going all the way to the final. On present form that is far from certain, Corretja having for two sets shown how to outmanoeuvre the giant Croatian and thus by-pass the hazards of his devastating serve.

The non-seed from the bottom half to watch is Spain's Alberto Berasategui, whose match against Yevgeny Kafelnikov brought together two exciting young talents but turned out to be a disappointment thanks to the young Russian having a seriously off-day. It left one only to marvel at the ferocity of the Berasategui forehand as he came through 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Davenport, the No 9 seed, was beaten 6-4, 6-2 by France's Julie Halard, whose past frailties suggested she was unlikely to make much impact. But the girl from La Baule came home on a succession of passing shots that had all the power and grace of Atlantic rollers.

The sturdy Davenport, whom Halard forced to run around rather too much, is none the less one of the most improved players on the tour, having briefly made it into the top 10 at the beginning of the month, the first American to do so since Jennifer Capriati in 1990.

However, she is still only 17, and she says that high school at home in California remains her priority. You wonder where Capriati would be now if she had felt likewise.

(Photograph omitted)