Tennis: Stich struck by string of errors: Men's second seed becomes latest leading light to be dimmed at French Open

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The Independent Online
AS VOLLEYS continue to rain on tennis, sport's erstwhile golden goose, one or two players appear to be adding to the problems by laying rotten eggs.

Michael Stich's performance at the French Open here yesterday was as questionable as Andre Agassi's language the day before and Martina Navratilova's racket- remodelling on Monday.

Seeded to meet Pete Sampras in the final, Stich disappeared in the second round, having contributed 57 unforced errors to a straight- sets defeat by an unseeded American, Aaron Krickstein.

The result made the lower half of the draw seem even rosier for Michael Chang, the 1989 champion, who had already seen Stefan Edberg and Petr Korda pack their bags.

It was Stich's third consecutive early departure from a Grand Slam event, and it followed preparatory victories in the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf last weekend against Sampras and Sergi Bruguera, the defending champion here. The previous Saturday he attended his brother's wedding after withdrawing from the quarter-finals of the Italian Open complaining of lumbago.

At times yesterday the 1991 Wimbledon champion delivered shots with the air of a player warming up for a match rather than being in the middle of one, a far cry from his heroic displays in Germany at the end of last year.

One of the few points to Stich's credit was that he did not make overmuch of an elbow injury caused by a fall during his opening round match against Renzo Furlan. 'I had a little problem with my elbow,' Stich said, 'but it was just one of those days when it's better to stay in bed and not get up, and there's no excuse for that. I just played a very, very bad game, and I think I would have lost against anybody today.'

He was not particularly gracious to Krickstein, who required only an hour and 47 minutes to win, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. 'Let's put it this way,' Stich said, 'if he's playing normal and I'm playing normal, I'm going to win in straight sets.'

Krickstein, while agreeing that 'it wasn't great tennis out there', emphasised that he could 'only play the player who I am up against, and he was making a lot of mistakes'.

Agassi at least made a spirited exit against Austria's Thomas Muster after the Las Vegan's tongue had brought him close to disqualification in the fifth set. He has been fined a total of dollars 2,500 (about pounds 1,500) for his audible obscenity and verbal abuse, which amounts to 15 per cent of his second-round prize money and .036 per cent of his career earnings from tournaments.

Bill Babcock, the Grand Slam Administrator, expressed concern. 'I don't like the public suicide we are going through,' he said. 'Part of our job is to protect the image of the game. It doesn't matter if two fans are sitting in the grandstand watching two players ranked outside the top 100. If players are swearing, it's unacceptable.'

Bruno Rebeuh, the umpire from Nice who ignored Agassi's protestations, stood by his decisions. 'In my view,' he said, 'the language Agassi used was unacceptable. There are standards. He must uphold them. If he comes on my court at Wimbledon and uses bad language like that again, I'll enforce the rules. If it means defaulting him, I'll do it.'

While the Agassi-Muster drama was unfolding on Court A, Ronald Agenor and David Prinosil were embroiled in a marathon on Court No 10, which stood at 9-9 in the fifth set when darkness fell. When they returned yesterday, Agenor edged to victory, 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 14-12. It had taken a total of five hours and two minutes, the longest match recorded at the French championships. The Haitian's reward is a third-round meeting with Bruguera.

Results, page 39