TENNIS / FRENCH OPEN : Edberg Doesn't Get Stuck in Clay in First Round

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stefan Edberg has won Grand Slam events on concrete and Grand Slam events on grass, but he never has had his day on clay.

The French Open, the Grand Slam title missing from Edberg's resume, began on a warm and muggy Monday with all the top stars winning easily. Edberg was among them, scoring a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory over clay-court specialist Marcelo Filippini.

The two-time U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion, Edberg never will feel at home on a clay court until they plant grass on it. But there Edberg was against Filippini, coming in on almost every shot, playing his usual fast-court game on the slowest of slow courts and coming away a winner.

But can he win six more matches, then walk away with the French Open trophy? Has winning the French Open become his obsession?

"Obsession? That's a strong word for me," Edberg said. "But it really would make it complete. I know it's the hardest one to win. I have another couple of chances, then it's out the window, to be realistic."

Climbing through the window into the second round were second-seeded Jim Courier and fourth-seeded Boris Becker, one a clay-court lover, the other claiming a somewhat more reserved relationship.

Becker, who does not list a title on clay among his 38 tournament victories, ousted 17-year-old Nicolas Escude, a French wild-card selection playing his first ATP Tour match, 6-0, 6-3, 6-0.

Becker said he knew almost nothing about Escude.

"I was just hoping he was not playing the best match of his life," Becker said.

Courier spent 2 hours 14 minutes in the humidity of Center Court and emerged with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Roberto Azar of Argentina.

A left-hander, Azar didn't have much that could hurt Courier.

About the only thing he managed to do was make Courier's shirt wet.

"To quote Stefan, 'I did what I had to do,' " Courier said.

Actually no one quotes Edberg that much, probably because most of what he says is so routine. But winning the French Open would certainly be out of the ordinary.

After all, the French Open already is something of a milestone--the 40th consecutive Grand Slam event in which Edberg has played, a streak that began at Wimbledon in 1983.

In his nine previous trips to Roland Garros Stadium, Edberg counts his 1989 appearance in the final as his best result. He lost to Michael Chang in five sets.

Tony Pickard, Edberg's coach, said five weeks of playing on clay has put Edberg in the best condition possible for a run at the only major title that has eluded him.

"The most important thing is that he believes he can win it--and win it the way he wants to win it," Pickard said.

"It would end this ridiculous fixation that you have to stand at the back of the court and slog balls back at each other," Pickard said.

Tennis Notes

Neither Steffi Graf nor Arantxa Sanchez Vicario had much trouble, although they both needed tiebreakers in their first-round matches. Graf defeated Cecilia Dahlman, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1 and Sanchez Vicario defeated Monique Kiene, 6-3, 7-6 (7-1). . . . In the longest match of the day, Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark defeated Emilio Sanchez of Spain, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, in 3 hours 50 minutes, or one minute longer than it took for David Wheaton to lose to Marc Goellner, 6-3, 6-7 (7-2), 6-7 (7-5), 6-4, 6-4.

Security for the players is tighter as a result of the Monica Seles stabbing in Hamburg, Germany. Patrice Clerc, director of the tournament, said security at the gates has been strengthened, players have escorts walking to the courts and locker rooms, security crews are posted behind the players' chairs at each court. In addition, plainclothes security officials are in the stands. Jim Courier said the stabbing of Seles by a fan during a match has affected the players. "I think everyone out there is a bit more wary," he said. "But you have to go on and do your job--you can't live in a shell."

Why Zina Garrison-Jackson doesn't like playing on clay, Part 4: For the fourth time in the last nine times she has played the French Open, she lost in the first round. This one was ugly, a 6-1, 6-1 defeat by No. 55 Ines Gorrochategui of Argentina.

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