Tennis: Lendl languishes while losing his cool: Former world No 1 makes poor showing in build-up to the French Open

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AS THE semi-retired Mats Wilander prepared to have another crack at the ATP Tour in Atlanta next week, his old rival Ivan Lendl played his worst match since taking only three games off the Swede in Cincinnati 10 years ago. Lendl was defeated yesterday by Sergi Bruguera, 6-1, 6-2, in the third round of the Volvo Monte Carlo Open.

Losing to Bruguera is not usually considered a professional disaster, particularly on a clay court. The 22-year-old Spaniard, ranked No 16 in the world, won the title here two years ago and eliminated Stefan Edberg in the first round of the 1990 French Open. But the fact that the 33- year-old Lendl played as badly as the score indicates can only add to doubts that he will win another major championship.

Yesterday, the once trusty forehand which helped Lendl to win eight Grand Slam titles and dominate as the world No 1 for 270 weeks was the weakest part of his game. As a consequence, he lost in 71 minutes.

During the second set Lendl's temper became as short as some of the points. After two netted forehands caused him to lose serve in the third game, he hurled his racket about 20 yards and was given a code violation. He then lifted the racket and belted a Coca-Cola refrigerator.

Lendl blamed a television crew for causing him to lose concentration - 'with lights straight on to the court, blinding even in the daylight, and speaking really loud over the loudspeaker' - though this was one of the few dazzling moments of the match.

After the tantrum Lendl managed to break Bruguera's serve, but even then a broken string contributed to the Spaniard's directing a forehand over the baseline at the end of a rally comprising more than 50 languid shots.

Though the Wimbledon title has long been considered a lost cause for Lendl, he still believes he can win another Grand Slam championship, 'on either hardcourt or clay'.

He defeated Bruguera in straight sets in the first round of the French Open last year, but will need to bolster both his forehand and his confidence if he is to make an impression in Paris next month.

'It is frustrating,' he said. 'I am used to hitting forehand winners from mid-court, and I am making errors at the moment. I hit them OK in practice and then the match comes and I seem to hit them in patches, and today I couldn't hit them at all. It was one of the worst matches I have played in the last 10 years. You try to forget about it and work on what you think you need to work on.'

Petr Korda would empathise with that. The third seed also managed to win only three games yesterday when defeated by Cedric Pioline, from Paris, ranked No 29. Korda was swept off the court, 6-3, 6-0. Pioline had already made a name as the sole French survivor with a win against Aaron Krickstein.

Thomas Muster, the defending champion, proved too strong for Magnus Larsson, Carlos Costa humbled the Russian Andrei Cherkasov, and the 19-year-old Alex Corretja made Spain's day with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 win against Marc Rosset, the Olympic champion.

Rosset's forehand was as wonky as Lendl's, and his behaviour also left something to be desired. He was warned for throwing his racket after missing three match points. Then, after losing the tie-break with yet another forehand error, he pounded the clay until the racket broke and then used it to smash the fridge. On this occasion, nothing seemed to go better with Coke.

QUARTER-FINAL LINE-UP: S Edberg (Swe) v A Medvedev (Ukr); C Pioline (Fr) v J Svensson (Swe); S Bruguera (Sp) v C Costa (Sp); T Muster (Aut) v A Corretja (Sp).

Results, Sporting Digest, page 37