TENNIS Chang fails to pass Muster

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The Independent Online


reports from Rome

It was, Thomas Muster said, "like watching a great movie by Spielberg". The Austrian was describing his fantastic performance in burying Michael Chang in the clay of the Foro Italico here yesterday, 6-3, 6-2, a 71-minute tour de force which advanced him to the semi-finals of the Italian Open.

Chang, the No 2 seed, may not have achieved great things on clay since winning the French Open as a 17-year-old in 1989, but rarely has his game been dismantled so emphatically. In mitigation, it must be mentioned that the American did not leave the court until midnight on Thursday after being pressed by Karol Kucera, one of the Slovak Republic's Davis Cup heroes against Britain.

The left-handed Muster has added finesse to his repertoire, and one particular point encapsulated the confidence which has grown during his 26 consecutive wins on clay.

Leading 4-2 and 40-30 in the second set of yesterday's quarter-final, the Austrian curtailed a rally by retrieving a Chang volley and confounding the scurrying American with a superb forehand topspin lob which would have beaten even the tallest of players.

After breaking Chang to secure victory on his second match point in the next game, Muster raised an arm in triumph, although the theme of his interview emphasised his sheer joy in playing, declaring he was enjoying his work more than ever.

His latest toil released America's three-year hold on the title, Chang being the last hope of following Jim Courier and Pete Sampras to the rostrum. Muster today meets the fourth seed, Wayne Ferreira, who crushed Stefan Edberg, 6-2, 6-0 in 57 minutes to become the first South African ever to reach the last four.

Muster, the 1990 Italian champion, has been unable to translate his clay- court domination to the best of five sets French Open. Fears have been expressed that he already may have over-extended himself.

Sergi Bruguera, who has won the French Open for the past two years, plays Goran Ivanisevic in today's other semi-final, after defeating Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, 6-4, 6-1.

The Foro Italico saw the first meeting between Ivanisevic and Jeff Tarango. For much of the time, it seemed the left hand did not know what the left hand would do. There were 75 unforced errors - 45 from Ivanisevic. While not exactly enlivening the day, the Croat at least put together 35 winners, including 16 aces, for a 7-6, 6-4 victory.

The Californian ought to have won the opening set. He created the only opportunities before the tie-break, but was unable to convert any of three set points on Ivanisevic's serve at 6-5. The Croat saved the first with an ace, but Tarango then misdirected two forehand drives.