Tennis: Edberg survives false alarm to stay on top

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THE MALE seed has become such an endangered species at the French Open this week you fear for them every time they go on court. Yesterday was full of surprises: four of the elite were counted out and all were counted in again complete with victories. To organisers shorn of most of their attractions the results were greeted with considerable relief.

Losing Andre Agassi to injury was bad enough but since the tennis began, aristocrats have been falling in Paris at a rate to satisfy Madame Defarge - Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Ivan Lendl among them. Which left Roland Garros without a lot of star quality and a men's draw in which only the top three of the highest eight seeds had survived. If Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras had gone yesterday the tournament treasurer might have felt like leaving with them.

So it was with some trepidation in the corridors of power that Edberg took to the court yesterday. Even more so when he surrendered his opening service game to the American, Jonathan Stark, who was the junior doubles champion here in 1987 with Jim Courier. It proved to be a false alarm, however, the twice Wimbledon champion winning 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 in 2hr 19min.

'I played very well,' said Edberg, who is now four matches away from a title which would make him the first man to complete a full set of grand slams since Rod Laver. 'It's difficult to gauge how your form compares from year to year but I'm not far off where I was in '89.' Then he was runner-up to Michael Chang.

Sampras, the top seed, also had a fairly routine victory, beating Jonas Svennson 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, which left the fevered brow to Andrei Medvedev, who is ranked 11th here. He defeated Argentina's Gabriel Markus 7-6, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, yet admitted to feeling 'very scared' yesterday when his opponent levelled the match by taking the second set and took a 4-1 lead in the third.

Medvedev, an unconventional type who is given to breaking into laughter during matches, left the court distributing postcards with his autograph written on them, a device he uses to save his energy. 'Do you use a rubber stamp?' he was asked. 'That wouldn't be fair,' he replied. 'The people want the original signature. They are paying for tickets. They have come to support me.'

One person who will not be supporting anyone in person is Jim Pierce, the father of the 12th women's seed Mary. He had his pass permanently removed yesterday after being ejected from the crowd during his daughter's match against Kimberly Po on Friday. A statement read: 'The Tournament Committee decided to take away Mr Pierce's credential for the 1993 French Open, due to his behaviour which disturbed the smooth progress of the event.'

Pierce, who had sat among spectators rather than in the guest box because he had been alerted he was being monitored, is noted for outbursts during matches and assaulted spectators last year. It was on the request of the Pierce family that he was removed and even if he pays for a ticket this time he will be refused admission and his money will be refunded.

The schism in the Pierce family apart, the women's event has gone almost perfectly to script. Gabriela Sabatini had more problem breaking sweat than breaking her opponent's serve in a 6-2, 6-2 win over Barbara Rittner and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario slaughtered Leila Meskhi 6-3, 6-0, which ensured the top eight seeds have taken their appointed places in the last 16.

The one suprise yesterday was the removal of the 10th seed, Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere, who was removed 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 by Brenda Schultz. Or rather forcibly removed as the 6ft 2in from the Netherlands has the fastest serve in the women's game.

Her first shot crashes over the net at well in excess of 100mph and she backs it up with a solid volley and thumping groundstrokes. Great things have been expected from the 22-year-old from Haarlem for years, particularly on grass, but the strength in her hands is not always matched with that in her mind and she is prone to blow up.