TENNIS : Edberg cast adrift from the lite

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The Independent Online
On the whole, WC Fields prefferred playing Philadelphia, and Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang are of a like mind. Even so, seven of the top 10 have opted for the $2.25m (£1.4m) Eurocard Open in Germany this week.

Stefan Edberg had intended to be here to defend the singles title, though no longer as a member of the top 10. The Swede lost that distinction yesterday for the first time in almost a decade, slipping from No 9 to No 14.

The ATP Tour computer confirmed Edberg's loss of status, automatically deleting the points he had gained after defeating Goran Ivanisevic in the Stuttgart final last year, when the tournament was held a week earlier.

Poor Edberg is not even in a position to win them back. He withdrew from the tournament last evening after spending several days in bed suffering from inflamed tonsils.

The Swede is one of only 11 players to have risen to No 1 since the world rankings began in 1973. He reached the summit in August, 1990, having first joined the top 10 in February, 1985. This is the first occasion that the 29-year-old former Wimbledon champion has been cast adrift from the lite group since August, 1985.

Sampras, the current leader, is under pressure from Agassi, who defeated him in the final of the Australian Open last month. Their rivalry is projected to continue at the $714,250 US Indoor event in Philadelphia.

Since Jim Courier's appearance in Stuttgart as the No 1 in 1992, the leading American and European players have tended to choose home ground for the tour's February skirmishes.

Boris Becker's decision to take a wild card has flavoured the Stuttgart event, particularly as he may face his compatriot and arch-rival, Michael Stich, in Saturday's semi-finals. For the neutral, however, monitoring the progress of Yevgeny Kafelnikov is another attraction.

The Russian celebrated his 21st birthday last Saturday and on Sunday defeated Becker in the Milan final. Kafelnikov thanked Becker for "such a nice present". The German had a match point at 6-5 in a third set tie- break, but hit a backhand over the baseline. Two points later, Becker double-faulted on match point.

En route to meeting the top-seeded Becker, Kafelnikov defeated the fourth- seeded Stich and the second-seed, Ivanisevic, achievements which raised his ranking from No 10 to No 8.

Kafelnikov could play Becker again in the quarter-finals here. The Russian must first face the Czech, Petr Korda, while Becker opens against Patrik Khnen, a Davis Cup team-mate.

The loss of Edberg has affected the lower half of the draw. One hesitates to say weakened when the event can produce an opening round match between Ivanisevic, the second seed, and Magnus Larsson, who ended last season by securing the Davis Cup for Sweden and winning the Grand Slam Cup for himself.

n Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic, who contested last year's Wimbledon final, are among the early entrants for the Stella Artois Championships at London's Queen's Club from 12 to 18 of June. Todd Martin, who defeated Sampras in last year's final, and Stefan Edberg, have also entered. Sampras has also told the US Davis Cup captain, Tom Gullikson, that he will not play in the quarter-final tie against Italy next month.