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It's no feet of clay: Muster beats Corretja

King of clay Thomas Muster jokes that when he visits Florida, his favorite surface is sand.

The Lipton Championships are played on hard courts, but Muster turned the fourth round into a day at the beach Tuesday, beating Alex Corretja 6-4, 6-4.

Winning Lipton would represent a breakthrough for the 29-year-old Muster. All but three of his 43 career titles have come on clay, saddling him with a reputation as a one-surface specialist.

"I don't care," the second-ranked Austrian said. "I think I've played well enough that people realize I can play on hard courts. I don't think I have to prove anything to anybody at all."

Last year, Muster came into Lipton ranked No. 1, then lost his opening match to Nicolas Pereira. Until this year, he had advanced beyond the third round at Key Biscayne only once _ in 1989, when he beat Yannick Noah in the semifinals, then missed the final because of an accident with a drunken driver that nearly ended his career.

"I've never really had much luck at this tournament," he said dryly. "I went to the final, and that was an unlucky experience there."

Muster's opponent in the quarterfinals is Jonas Bjorkman, who advanced by beating Mark Philippoussis 6-3, 6-4.

Top-ranked Pete Sampras blitzed Magnus Larsson 6-2, 6-0.

"I really played unbelievable tennis for the most part," Sampras said. "I served well, got off to a good start and he got a little down on himself. It was a smooth day."

Sampras, 20-1 this year, has lost just 13 games in his three matches at Lipton. His quarterfinal opponent is Hendrik Dreekmann.

Jim Courier, seeking his biggest tournament title since 1993, beat Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek 7-6 (8-6), 6-4. Courier faces Goran Ivanisevic, who beat 19-year-old Dominik Hrbaty 6-4, 6-4.

Sergi Bruguera and Andrei Medvedev also advanced and meet in the quarterfinals.

In women's play, Monica Seles won her fourth match in five days, rallying past Irina Spirlea 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. Her opponent in the semifinals Thursday is Barbara Paulus, who beat Sandrine Testud 6-3, 6-3.

Seles, coming back from a broken finger, is playing her first hard-court tournament since the U.S. Open seven months ago.

"The way I played today, I need a little more consistency," she said. "I had a hard time closing out a couple of key games. I think that's a lack of match play."

She described her game as "rusty" and decried some of her shotmaking as "awful," no doubt a reference to the seventh game of the third set. Instead of holding serve for a 5-2 lead, she double-faulted three times, the last at break point for a 4-3 score that gave Spirlea a glimpse at recovery.

Spirlea, who is 0-4 against Seles, said Seles has not lost her Midas touch.

"I cannot say if she's playing better or worse," Spirlea said. "To me, it's the same."

Muster has played 21 hard-court matches this year, winning 18 for his best start on the surface. His only defeats were to eventual tournament champions _ Courier at Doha, Sampras at the Australian Open and Michael Chang at Indian Wells. He beat Ivanisevic to win the Dubai title last month.

Muster limits his hard-court play to protect his left knee, damaged in the 1989 accident.

"Clay is a better surface for your body, there's no doubt about it," he said. "I just have to take the right period of rest between tournaments and take time off whenever it's necessary. This spring I've played good tennis so far, and my knee's all right."

A Lipton title would raise Muster's profile in the United States, where fans may be surprised to find that the intense, combative player can also be funny. For example:

Who did he look up to as a youngster?

"To everybody, because I was so little."

And what kind of job would he like if he didn't play tennis?

"A carpenter. I always liked to work with wood when I was a kid. That's what I wanted to be for a long time. It didn't work out, so I had to play tennis."

KING HASSAN II OPEN: Top-seeded Karim Alami posted a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Gerard Solves; Richard Fromberg beat Orlin Stonoychev 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-2; and Tomas Carbonell ousted Tomas Nydahl 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5) at Casablanca.

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