Tennis: Rios says players `like caged wild animals'

MARCELO RIOS, the only player who can stop Pete Sampras from ending the year as the world No 1 for a record sixth time consecutively, has taken a swipe at the ATP Tour en route to next week's $3.3m showdown in Hanover, writes John Roberts.

"They drill us as if we're in the army," the Chilean world No 2 told Stern in an interview published by the German magazine today. "If somebody breaks his racket in anger, then a punishment machine is set in motion. That way, people are reduced to bloodless creatures."

The 22-year-old from Santiago is not noted for expressive dealings with the media - journalists at the French Open have twice awarded him the "Prix Citron" (Lemon Award) for being the sourest player on circuit. "In the last few months I got better," he told Stern. "Maybe next year somebody else will get the prize."

Rios, who has supplanted Sampras as No 1 in the world on two occasions this year, is one of the eight qualifiers for next week's ATP Tour Championship, along with Sampras, Andre Agassi, Carlos Moya, Alex Corretja, Karol Kucera, Tim Henman and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Judging by what Rios told Stern, a savage contest is in prospect. "In this business it's like wild animals in a cage. It's every man for himself." Don King, eat your heart out.

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