Tennis: Lendl loses his balance and falls to heavy defeat: The former world No 1 blames court after losing in first round of Italian Open while defending champion advances with minimum of fuss

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The Independent Online
IVAN LENDL went downhill here yesterday even faster than in Monte Carlo three weeks ago. The former world No 1 was defeated, 6-2, 6-1, by Marcelo Filippini, of Uruguay, in the first round of the Italian Open, salvaging the same number of games as he did against Sergi Bruguera in Monaco but being dispatched three minutes sooner, in 68 minutes.

Bruguera, a top-20 player, at least went on to win the Monte Carlo Open. Filippini, ranked No 67, has not progressed beyond the second round of the 11 tournaments he has played this year, and his first three wins were against opponents who retired because of illness or injury.

Lendl must have felt like handing in a sick note of his own as his form deteriorated again. The three-times French Open champion was as tentative as a clay-court novice, overhitting many of the shots his faltering movements enabled him to reach. He double-faulted to lose the first set and won only one point in his three service games in the second set.

His worst errors were jeered and his few successes were for the most part greeted with ironic cheers. A single banner proclaiming 'God forgives, Lendl doesn't' seemed to encapsulate the ambivalence with which he is regarded here, in spite of winning the title in 1986 and 1988.

With the French championships only 12 days away, Lendl must trust that he can raise his game as impressively as he did after the disaster in Monte Carlo. He went on to win a tournament in Munich, defeating Michael Stich in the final, and reached the quarter-finals in Hamburg last week, when Stich avenged himself en route to the title.

Having described his performance against Bruguera as his worst for 10 years, Lendl excused yesterday's lapse by blaming the court.

'It was too slippery,' he said. 'It was hard to keep my balance. Over the last seven to 10 years there have been a lot of complaints about the courts being too slow and the balls too heavy. I think they have over-reacted to the complaints and made the courts very hard and made the balls lighter, too. They did it to try to satisfy the players.'

Last year, Jim Courier described the centre court as hard, dry and potentially dangerous before winning the title. Yesterday, after opening his European campaign with a 6-2, 6-1 win against Horacio de la Pena, a qualifier from Argentina, Courier had no complaints. 'The court is much better,' he said. 'It's playing faster, but I'm happy with it.'

Even Boris Becker had a good day. The former Wimbledon champion followed Lendl on court and had a rare success on clay, defeating Andrei Cherkasov, of Russia, 6-4, 6-3. Admittedly the match was stopped at 1-1 in the first set to enable the groundsmen to spread extra clay on a bald area of the court, but this was hardly surprising considering how Filippini had been kicking the stuff in Lendl's face.

When it was put to Lendl that the conditions were the same for everyone, the fifth seed replied: 'Some players are lighter than others. I am one of those players who is heavier.'

So, too, is Becker. 'I'm probably heavier than Lendl,' the German said. 'I don't slide as much as him, so it's less slippery for me.'

Before the subject gained further gravity, Filippini made a pertinent comment about his victory. Asked why he had succeeded on this occasion after losing his previous two matches against Lendl in straight sets, on clay in Barcelona in 1989 and on a hard court in Florida in 1990, he said: 'I lost my fear of him.' Lendl, 33, may soon grow used to this attitude from hungry opponents, though Filippini was sufficiently prudent to add: 'This does not mean I am going to beat him next time we play.'

If, as Lendl suggested, the Foro Italico has become an arena for catch- weight contests, it was interesting to see Michael Chang take on someone his own size - or close to his own size: Jordi Arrese, 5ft 9in, is one inch taller than the 1989 French Open champion. Chang defeated the Spaniard, 6-2, 6-3, on a show court out among the Mediterranean pines.

Becker's second-round opponent is a qualifier, Sandor Noszaly, the Hungarian who defeated both Jeremy Bates and Chris Wilkinson in the recent Davis Cup tie in Budapest. From a British point of view, his match against Becker could be billed as Boom-Boom v Doom-Gloom.