Tennis: Pioline brushes Edberg aside

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PRACTISING with Stefan Edberg last week may not have made Cedric Pioline perfect, but he learned enough to defeat the Swedish top seed at a gusty dollars 1.65m ( pounds 1.05m) Volvo Monte Carlo Open yesterday to become the first French finalist here since Yannick Noah in 1986.

Strong winds created the tennis equivalent of sand storms on the clay court as Pioline dusted Edberg down and brushed him off, 6-4, 6-4. 'It was like playing in a desert,' Edberg said, 'but he played better in the wind than I did.'

The 23-year-old from Paris, will play Sergi Bruguera, the 1991 champion, in today's best of five sets final. The Spaniard, seeded No 11, defeated Austria's Thomas Muster, the defending champion, saving three match points before winning on his third match point, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (9-7).

Pioline, who lost to Pete Sampras in the final of an indoor event in Lyons last year, has yet to win an ATP Tour title. Exchanging shots with Edberg on a practice court during the Nice tournament en route to Monaco proved useful when Pioline, ranked No 29, played the former world No 1 for the first time yesterday.

'Stefan does not serve so strongly compared with some other players, but he puts a lot of spin on the ball, and I was prepared for this,' he said. 'My plan was to have him play the rallies to tire him a little bit in his mind so he wasn't so precise with his volleys.'

Edberg, whose attacking game often founders on the slow surfaces, was also defeated in the semi-finals in Nice, losing to Marc Gollner, a German qualifier who went on to beat Ivan Lendl in the final.

Here, Edberg advanced to the last four by recovering first set deficits against both Henri Leconte and Javier Sanchez and playing 'uncomplicated' tennis (cutting down on risky stop volleys and drop shots) against the brilliant Ukrainian prospect, Andrei Medvedev.

Though Pioline made the steadier start, he showed signs of losing his nerve when serving for the first set at 5-3. Edberg took advantage, only to double fault twice when trying to level to 5-5.

Edberg lost his serve to love in the fourth game of the second set, broke back immediately, and denied Pioline two more break points at 4-4. Then, much to the Frenchman's relief, he netted a backhand volley at 30-30 in the next game.

The Swede managed to save three match points, but any prospect of a revival ended when a bold service return by Pioline left him with little alternative but to stretch and dump a low backhand into the net.

Pioline has had a traumatic time recently. Last month he had to withdraw from the Lipton Championships in Florida and return to Paris when his pregnant girlfriend, Mireille, was taken ill with a blood disorder and required a Caesarean section.

Their son, Andrea, was born two months premature. He remains in an incubator in Paris while his mother has come here to see if his father can win dollars 235,000 and become the first French player to recieve the trophy since Pierre Darmon 30 years ago.