Tennis: Sabatini joins the exodus of leading players: Edberg, Lendl and Novotna are among the top players to join the ranks of this year's early departures from the French Open

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The Independent Online
EARLY departures continued at the French Open here yesterday, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, Gabriela Sabatini and Jana Novotna joining Monday's crestfallen contender, Martina Navratilova.

It would have seemed appropriate, however, if the theme of hearts and flowers had been lightened with a few bars of 'Offenbach's Galop' for a female spectator on Court A who had to be dissuaded from raising her skirts at Jim Courier, one of the day's winners.

Lendl, whose decline on this occasion was hastened by a back injury, announced after his defeat by France's Arnaud Boetsch, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, that he would not be playing at Wimbledon next month.

Opening-round eliminations have become commonplace for Lendl, though this was the first time since 1979 that he had stepped into a Grand Slam event without a seeding. The 34-year-old did not step for long. Boetsch, ranked 11 places above the former champion at No 17, is a threat to fit players, let alone one with a disability.

'I couldn't move,' he said. 'I got worse and worse as the match went on.' The Centre Court crowd's enthusiastic support for their man did not help Lendl's mood, and at one stage he asked the supervisor to request quiet during the points.

Edberg, his latest quest for the elusive French title frustrated by a countryman, Henrik Holm, will be seeking grass-court preparation for Wimbledon and may enter next week's Direct Line tournament at Beckenham. He has not left the clay so early since falling to Sergi Bruguera in the first round here in 1990, when seeded No 1.

The third seed on this occasion, Edberg laboured for four hours and four minutes before succumbing to Holm's hefty groundstrokes, 7-5, 7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 6-4, having failed to find the ryhthm to impose his attacking style on the match. He had one stroke of luck, saving the first match point with the help of a net-cord, but Holm was not to be denied a second time.

Sabatini's defeat by Italy's Silvia Farina in the portentous environment of Court No 1 was the day's most dismal failure. It was there last year that the Argentinian lost to Mary Joe Fernandez after leading 6-1, 5-1 and squandering five match points.

She has yet to recover from the experience, as was clear in the manner of her defeat by a player who had not previously taken a game from her in two matches. Farina won 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 after Sabatini had led 1-0, 40-0 in the second set and 3-1, 40-15 in the third. As the 22-year-old Italian said: 'Now Sabatini is unable to take pressure, and her second serve is very easy to attack.'

Sabatini has not won a title since capturing the 1992 Italian Open, though this is the first time she has failed to advance beyond the first round of a Grand Slam championship since the 1985 United States Open.

A semi-finalist here on five occasions, she was the No 8 seed this time, a potential quarter-final opponent for Steffi Graf, not that the defending champion would have been losing sleep about that.

Novotna, who capitulated to Graf so dramatically in last year's Wimbledon final, is not a noted clay-court performer, and the aptly named Anna Smashnova took advantage. The Israel-based Russian won 6-4, 6-2, belying a ranking of 100. 'I was the one making all the mistakes,' the fifth- seeded Novtona said accurately, adding that she was not helped by a strained muscle in her serving arm.

Courier, who won the title in 1991 and 1992, swept past France's Jean-Philippe Fleurian 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 and ignored the distraction of the Can- Can girl in the crowd. 'I don't know if she was crazy or not,' the American said. A couple of security men ensured that she did not break the dress code for long.

Burn-out concern, page 35

(Photograph omitted)

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