Tennis: Delayed action takes Edberg into last four

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The Independent Online
ONLY Stefan Edberg can deny the Americans their first clean-sweep of Grand Slam men's singles titles for 54 years. The Swedish holder of the United States championship held off a spirited Ivan Lendl in a fifth-set tie-break here yesterday, and will now play Michael Chang in the semi-finals. Jim Courier and Pete Sampras meet to decide who will emerge from the other semi-final to carry the Stars and Stripes.

With luck, these issues will be decided on the so-called 'Super Saturday', though the way things have been going it might be an idea to recruit Francois (Day For Night) Truffaut to direct the tournament.

Edberg and Lendl were the latest to be affected by rain delays. Their quarter-final commenced at 7.45pm on Thursday and was concluded at 3.29pm yesterday, almost 20 hours later. Edberg must take some of the blame, having failed to convert four match points in the fourth set before bedtime after Lendl had made a comeback from two sets down.

The Swede led the three-times champion 2-1 on serve in the fifth set when play resumed yesterday, and there were two breaks of serve either way (Lendl had three game points for 5-3) before Edberg won the shoot-out, 7-4, to go through, 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6. They played 59 minutes yesterday and three hours the night before.

Edberg has won 10 of his 14 matches with Chang, and eliminated him in straight sets in the fourth round here last year (7-6,

7-5, 6-3). It is seven years since the top four seeds reached the semi- finals. Chang has been ejected from the Stadium Court here more often than a photographer on the rewind, but relegation to the adjacent Grandstand Court has not hindered his progress. Delays have twice prompted the organisers to switch Chang's matches; perhaps on the basis that he is such a good mover, though more likely because of television's demand for 'bigger names'.

On the face of it, the fourth seed would appear to be the semi- finalist with the least going for him: he is the smallest and the lightest, and has not previously advanced beyond the fourth round. Moreover, he was beaten by a Briton (Jeremy Bates) in the first round at Wimbledon.

Wayne Ferreira, the American's quarter-final opponent on Thursday night, was not such a good mover, alas, an injury to his left thigh restricting his mobility from early in the fourth set, though the determined South African forced the match into a fifth set. Chang won, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-1.

Ferreira, the 12th seed, must have feared the worst the moment he was redirected towards the second of the showcourts. He had to be carried from the Grandstand Court last year, when an ankle injury brought a premature conclusion to his second-round match against Sampras, who was leading, 6-1, 6-2, 2-2 at the time. Since then, the stylish performer from Johannesburg has made impressive progress, his fluent strokes winning the pre-Wimbledon Stella Artois tournament at Queen's.

It was fascinating to see a reversal of the classical Chang situation, remembering that amazing fourth-round match against Lendl on the way to winning the 1989 French Open.

Chang and Ferreira played some splendid tennis and the South African continued to produce spectacular winners after having his thigh strapped at the end of the fifth game of the fourth set.

The problem was that Ferreira had to take more risks in an attempt to shorten the points. While this proved successful in the tie- break, which he won, 7-4, he was unable to keep pace with Chang in the final set.

Courier, the world No 1, has already won the Australian and French titles this year (his blip coming at Wimbledon), and Sampras became the youngest US Open champion two years ago.

His record against Courier is impressive (5-1), but Courier's solitary win in the series was a big one - in the quarter-finals here last year, 6-2, 7-6, 7-6 - and he has improved since then.

The women's final, between Monica Seles, the defending champion, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, will be sandwiched between the men's semi-finals, as usual. Seles, who lost to Steffi Graf at Wimbledon, reached her seventh consecutive Grand Slam final with a 6-3,

6-2 win against Mary Joe Fernandez, who could not hold serve as often as she was able to break.

Sanchez Vicario, who eliminated Graf in the quarter-finals, advanced to her third Grand Slam final by defeating Manuela Maleeva- Fragniere, 6-2, 6-1. Maleeva- Fragniere held serve only once in the match. The Spaniard, seeded five, won the French Open title in 1989 (when Chang was the men's champion). She has defeated Seles only once in 11 matches - but her success came in the recent Canadian Open, on a similar concrete court. It could be an occasion of grunts and oles.