Tennis: Dewulf has to kick himself for trying to play football

Treading on a tennis ball and injuring your ankle can win you $100,000 in Munich. John Roberts sees an obscure Belgian accomplish this miracle of modern sport.
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The Independent Online
The pounds 6m (pounds 3.8m) Compaq Grand Slam Cup began yesterday with a bonus for an ailing Frenchman and tough luck for a Belgian who forgot which game he was supposed to be playing.

Football coaches might encourage players to put their foot on the ball from time to time, but the practice is not recommended on a tennis court, as Filip Dewulf discovered to his cost - possibly as much as $150,000.

To be fair, the Belgian attempted to kick the ball after netting a backhand volley in the third game of his match against Cedric Pioline in the first round. He missed with the kick and stepped on the ball, twisting his ankle. "Very stupid," Dewulf said after the injury caused him to retire in the second set, with Pioline leading, 7-6, 2-2.

Dewulf limped off the carpet court and out of the Olympic Hall with $100,000 as a first-round loser. Pioline is guaranteed $250,000 as a quarter-finalist, a handsome return for a man who retired because of a back injury during last weekend's Davis Cup tie against Belgium.

Ironically, Pioline was due to play Dewulf in the fourth rubber on Sunday in Ghent, but the Frenchman was not feeling 100 per cent after retiring in Friday's second singles against Johan van Herck. Guillaume Raoux, who replaced Pioline, defeated Dewulf, but Belgium triumphed, 3-2, against the 1996 champions.

Pioline, determined to capitalise on his qualification for the Grand Slam Cup after finishing runner-up to Pete Sampras at Wimbledon, had requested a Wednesday start in order to rest his back. This was denied in view of the number of players who had travelled to Munich from Washington DC after the Davis Cup semi-final between the United States and Australia.

Among these was Mark Woodforde, the Australian doubles specialist, who made an encouraging start against the Chilean Marcelo Rios, winning a tie-break, 7-2. Rios steadied his game and wore down his fellow left-hander to win, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1.

Pioline, having failed to advance beyond the first round in his three previous visits to the Grand Slam Cup, was not expected to progress beyond raising a racket and lifting a cheque. Given his past record, the Frenchman's wife, Mireille, decided not to accompany him on this occasion, but is on stand-by if he reaches the final and has warned him that she is primed for a spending spree. Although Yevgeny Kafelnikov was too smart to try Dewulf's football trick, the Russian did turn up in Wolves clothing (old gold shirt, black shorts) and put a lot of shots past Sergi Bruguera. The duel between the former French Open champions was conducted at a pace way above their customary clay-court rallying, Kafelnikov winning, 6-4, 6-3.

Bruguera was unable to take advantage of a break point after Kafelnikov double-faulted when serving for the opening set at 5-4, and was subsequently punished by three consecutive drives from the Russian's forehand.

Kafelnikov broke the Spaniard to love in the opening game of the second set, only to double-fault on a game point for 2-0. Bruguera broke back, luring Kafelnikov into overhitting a backhand. The Spaniard could not make further progress, however, losing his serve in the third game after netting a backhand.

Bruguera showed his frustration by whacking his chair with his racket during the change-over. Kafelnikov made better use of his racket, driving a forehand across the court to convert his second match point with Bruguera serving at 5-3.

"I like the indoor surface, because my game is very simple," Kafelnikov said. "I rely on my groundstrokes and a little bit on my serve. At the crucial stages I was able to play the right shot at the right time. That's why it was a pretty comfortable win for me."

Greg Rusedski, Britain's US Open finalist, made a spirited recovery from a 4-0 deficit in the first set to overcome the Australian Todd Woodbridge, his nemesis at Queen's this year, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.

Boris Becker, the winner last year and welcomed with a wild card this time, is due on court to play Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman today. Becker, who has been in semi-retirement since Wimbledon, is likely to be invited to take an administrative role in the Grand Slam Cup, which was founded by his late manager, Axel Meyer-Wolden.

"It's something we're thinking about," said Bill Dennis, the tournament director. "Certainly we're going to wait until his active playing career is over, but maybe we could include Boris Becker at some time within the direction of the Compaq Grand Slam Cup."