Error-prone Stich thwarted by Black

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The Independent Online


reports from New York

Byron Black, of Zimbabwe, who grew up playing barefoot, became the latest unseeded competitor to stamp on Michael Stich's toes, defeating the former Wimbledon champion in five sets to advance to his first Grand Slam quarter- final at the United States Open yesterday.

Stich was the runner-up to Andre Agassi here a year ago. The eighth seed's prospects this time perished under a mound of errors. Black, although caught after leading by two sets, remained steady and was rewarded with a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3 victory after three hours.

The 25-year-old from Harare is ranked No 70 in the world. Buying shoes was never a problem, it was just that he preferred to go barefoot on the four grass courts his father built on their avocado plantation.

Jim Courier showed signs of a revival by defeating the third seed, Thomas Muster, 6-3, 6-0, 7-6, in less than two hours. The No 14 seed now plays Michael Chang, his American compatriot.

Chang, who has worked hard to strengthen his serve to combat the power of his rivals, was detained by a double-fault en route to the last 16. It cost the fifth seed a set when leading 2-0 against Michael Tebbutt, an Australian ranked No 119 in the world.

Fortunately for Chang, his opponent was even more erratic, double-faulting 16 times, five of them on break points. Chang's 6-2, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win keep his name among the American contenders.

One local fellow is having a good run, continuing a family tradition and causing a good deal of excitement in the television commentary box. The name is McEnroe. Having long-since shed inhibitions about playing the same sport - if not the same game - as his older brother, Patrick McEnroe is revelling in his best showing at his home championships. John, the turbulent one, is also enjoying every moment of it behind the microphone.

Patrick has never allowed sibling rivalry to affect his career, acknowledging from the outset that he could never match a brother whose unique talent and appalling temper featured in seven Grand Slam singles triumphs, four of them accomplished in New York.

A sense of humour has helped. On reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 1991, Patrick said: "Lendl, Edberg, Becker and McEnroe - no surprises." That is the one Grand Slam championship in which Patrick managed to advance as far as his brother, who made the last four in 1983 when the tournament was played on grass at Kooyong. Patrick was denied a place in the final by Boris Becker at Flinders Park, the German winning the title. Becker now stands between Patrick and a place in the semi-finals.

Gabriela Sabatini exorcised one of her ghosts by defeating Mary Joe Fernandez to advance to the women's semi-finals. The Argentinian managed to banish the memory of her match against the American at the French Open in 1993, when she lost in three sets after leading 6-1, 5-1, and having five match points.

Yesterday, Sabatini again advanced to 6-1, 5-1, chiefly through errors by her opponent, who appeared to be weary from her victory against the defending champion, Aranxta Sanchez Vicario, in the previous round, but held her nerve just when match points began to appear and disappear again.

She required seven - the first three on Fernandez's serve, and three more on her own - before winning 6-1, 6-3, after following her serve into the net and prompting Fernandez to misdirect a forehand over the baseline.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 25