TENNIS: Spain suffers bad day on clay

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The Independent Online


reports from Rome

Spain may have dominated the women's event at the Italian Open last week, but the hombres were in trouble on the clay here yesterday. Francisco Clavet, for example, had a match point at 6-2, 5-1 when serving for a place in the second round against the Russian Andrei Chesnokov, but committed Sabatini and lost, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.

Alberto Berasategui, the runner-up to his compatriot Sergi Bruguera at the French Open last year, continued his dismal season, losing to the unseeded American, MaliVai Washington, 7-5, 6-2.

It was also a disappointing day if your name happened to be Costa: Alberto was defeated by the 10th seed, Todd Martin, whose game is better suited to faster surfaces, 7-6, 5-7, 6-3, and Carlos lost to another American, Vince Spadea, 6-4, 6-3.

A Spaniard, Emilio Sanchez, was the last European to win the title, in 1991, before the Americans took over with the rise of Jim Courier and Pete Sampras. Bruguera, it must be emphasised, is here, fresh from his win against Andre Agassi in Hamburg last week. Bruguera, the eighth seed, is projected to play Courier in the third round and Sampras in the quarter- finals.

In his opening match, Bruguera plays the Australian Patrick Rafter, having won their three previous meetings, memorably 13-11 in a fifth set at Wimbledon last year.

Another young Australian, Mark Philippoussis, made a popular debut at the Foro Italico yesterday, though he could have wished for better luck than to have been drawn against the No 2 seed, Michael Chang. The pair made an interesting contrast: Chang, 5ft 9in, the master retriever; Philippoussis, 6ft 4in and growing, custom-built for the modern power game.

Though the retriever won, 6-4, 6-3, Philippoussis justified the decision to grant him a wild card. He broke Chang twice in the opening set, and recovered from 0-2 in the second, only to double-fault three times when serving with an opportunity to level at 3-4.

The Aussie media nickname Philippoussis "Scud", as in missile, a means of fitting him into headlines and summarising his style. A runner-up in the junior singles at Wimbledon last July, he seems destined to prosper on faster courts than the ones here. As Chang agreed, however, he will be all the better for toiling on the clay.

"Mark obviously is very strong in the serve-and-volley departments, but playing on clay can only help broaden his game and strengthen the parts that need strengthening," the 1989 French Open champion said.

Chang, unique in his ability to succeed in the land of the giants, has increased the scope of his own game by working to add qualities Philippoussis possesses in abundance, notably a potent serve. "I spend a heck of lot more time practising my serve," he said. "When I was younger I used to concentrate on hitting groundstrokes, but when you can win a few free points you don't have to work so hard in every game.'' His next opponent, incidentally, is a Spaniard, Tomas Carbonell.

The Californian Jeff Tarango completed an encouraging opening day for the Americans by defeating Switzerland's Marc Rosset, the 11th seed in straight sets.

There cannot be many centre courts at important tournaments that have not been graced by Stefan Edberg. The Swede, paying his first visit to the Italian Open for 11 years, finally made it to the main stage here yesterday and defeated the Frenchman, Arnaud Boetsch, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. By coincidence, the Foro Italico, has a new Centre Court this year.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 31