Tennis: Muster wary of the fast set

John roberts reports from Paris
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The Independent Online
Having advanced to the third round of the French Open without a blip yesterday, beating the Frenchman Gerard Solves, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0, Thomas Muster generously offered encouragement to those of his challengers whose inclination is to attack rather than chisel points from the baseline.

The clay courts at Stade Roland Garros are fast enough not to disadvantage serve-volleyers, Muster argued, estimating the pace to be roughly the same as the rubberised concrete at the United States Open. "The difference is that here you have to slide and keep your balance.''

In particular, Muster had Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic, Richard Krajicek and Michael Stich in mind, but the unseeded Stefan Edberg underlined the point in spectacular style with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 win against Carlos Moyo. The 20-year-old from Barcelona is the only player to have beaten Muster on clay this year.

Edberg's win guaranteed the 30-year-old Swede a special trip down memory lane to mark this latest stop on his retirement tour. He now plays the fourth-seeded Michael Chang, who defeated him in the 1989 final. Edberg, who led Chang by a service break in the fifth set, has often rued the opportunity he missed to strike a telling blow for attacking play.

Yesterday, Chang, the game's great retriever, had to run long and hard to out-rally Australia's Richard Fromberg, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4.

Muster made one proviso in his prognosis: the courts will only remain equitable if the weather stays as warm and sunny as it has been for the past three days. A glance at the forecast suggests sluggish conditions ahead.

Not that much that happens here from now on will concern Greg Rusedski, whose thoughts have already switched from clay to the slick grass of his adopted England and the groundwork necessary to tune his big-serving game for Wimbledon.

Rusedski was eliminated by Stich in the second round on the compact Court No 1 here yesterday, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3, and at the same time was given a lesson by the No 15 seed in how to adapt a style good enough to triumph at Wimbledon, as the German did in 1991.

Stich was only under threat from Rusedski during the second set, in which the Briton had two break points in the third game and a couple more in the ninth. In each case, Stich served his way out of trouble.

The German's sharpness was surprising considering he nearly did not enter the event in view of his lack of match practice since a foot operation in March.

Stich, whose 18 singles titles include clay-court victories in Hamburg and Stuttgart, sympathised with Rusedski. "Greg knows that his serve makes him a dangerous player on fast surfaces, but he's not sure how to play on clay," he said.

"That is very difficult for him," Stich added. "I know how it is, because a couple of years back I was relying on my service much more than I do right now. What Greg did today, staying back a lot, is just not going to help him on clay. On other surfaces, he just serves and volleys all the time. That's his game. That's good. I think he can improve, and there's still a lot of work to do. I think he can figure it out himself. I don't have to tell him what to do or what not to do.''

Rusedski is receiving plenty of advice from his new coach, Brian Teacher, who will continue to work with him through Wimbledon. "Brian has fixed up my backhand and he thinks that after two or three weeks of work everything is going to solidify. I'm going to jump on the grass courts at Queen's as fast as I can.''

Steffi Graf continued her defence of the women's title with a 6-2, 6-2 win against Australia's Nicole Bradtke. Graf has conceded only nine games in her two matches.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 27