Tennis: Muster and Edberg end the long wait: The heat gets to Volkov as Austrian sets up quarter-final with contrast of playing styles

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MUCH water has flowed beneath the bridges of the Yarra since Stefan Edberg's back gave way during the closing moments of his victory against Pat Cash at the 1989 Australian Open, preventing the Swede from keeping an appointment with Thomas Muster in the quarter- finals.

In the interim, Edberg has won a second Wimbledon and two United States Open titles, and Muster has courageously rebuilt his career after being injured by a drunk driver in Miami.

Tomorrow, five years on, the Swede and the Austrian finally get to duel for a place in the semi-finals, bringing their contrasting styles and personalities to the court.

Edberg, the graceful serve-volleyer, is one of the most placid and popular players in the game, as he demonstrated again in defeating a compatriot, Lars Jonsson, in straight sets. The No 4 seed can recall being fined but once, in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, after narrowly missing an umpire with a ball aimed in anger at the net. 'It was for dollars 350 ( pounds 235),' he said, 'I'm still paying off the loan]'

Muster, seeded No 6, furiously lashes shots from the baseline and has a tendency to rub opponents up the wrong way. Speaking from past experience, the Frenchman Guillaume Raoux, for example, prefaced their third-round match on Saturday by stating, 'I hate Muster's guts'.

The Austrian's response was restrained, although he did mention to the umpire after the opening point that Raoux had a reputation for foot-faulting.

That could also be said of Edberg, though in their three matches to date Muster may have been too busy preparing to receive a kicking serve to his backhand to notice the positioning of the Swede's feet.

Edberg has won on each occasion, the surprising aspect being that the matches were played on clay, the surface on which the Swede has had least success and Muster has thrived. The Austrian left-hander has won all but one of his 20 tour titles on the slow red stuff, the exception being the event in Adelaide in 1990, which was played on rubberised concrete courts similar to the ones here at Flinders Park.

There was no reason for Muster to try to psyche out Alexander Volkov, his fourth-round opponent. The temperature, which reached 120F on the Centre Court, did the job for him. Or so the Russian said after capitulating, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2, in one hour and 40 minutes.

'When I came on the court for a warm-up, I realised it was too hot for me today,' the No 12 seed shrugged. 'All the match I was thinking about how hot it is. I couldn't get in the match. That was the problem.'

There had to be some excuse for Volkov's abysmal performance. He made 53 unforced errors - two per game - and six of his 14 double faults came in triplicate in his last two service games. It could not have been that the Russian was going to extraordinary lengths to avoid impressing John Newcombe and Tony Roche, whose partnership in charge of the Australian Davis Cup team is due to begin in St Petersburg in March.

This was not the Volkov who saved two match points in defeating Muster in five sets in the quarter- finals of last year's United States Open. It was the Volkov who was jeered by spectators during the closing sets of a 6-4, 6-1, 6-0 defeat by Pete Sampras in the quarter-finals of the 1992 US Open.

Muster was keen to disassociate himself from his opponent's embarrassment. 'I have had better matches on this court than the one today,' he said, 'but I don't think it's my fault because Alexander played a terrible match.'

Volkov's profligacy contrasted with a diligent day in the sun by Xavier Daufresne, a 25-year-old Belgian accustomed to chasing meagre returns in breadline tour events around the world.

Daufresne, ranked No 125, led Todd Martin, the No 9 seed, 7-6, 5-2, only for his image of a place in the last eight to turn out to be a mirage. The American recovered to win, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Even so, the dollars 32,000 ( pounds 21,000) Daufresne earned by winning three matches here is dollars 285 more than his return from playing challenger tournaments in 18 countries last year.

Martin now faces a hard-working compatriot, MaliVai Washington, who had the good fortune to play in the cool of the evening but the tough luck to be on the same court as Mats Wilander, the obdurate wild card, for four hours.

The 29-year-old former world No 1 kept his Swedish supporters in good voice until cracking towards the end of the fourth set. Serving at 4-4, Wilander missed a smash off a Washington lob on break point, and the American completed his task, 6-7, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 6-1.

It was Wilander's ninth five-set match at the Australian Open, and the first he had lost. Having helped carry the tournament through the opening week, he must now leave the turning back of the clock to Edberg and Muster.

The International Tennis Federation has decided not to change the format of the Davis Cup from a knockout to a round-robin competition, as was proposed by Ian Peacock, the chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments