Graf awakened by anger

Tennis
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The Independent Online
It takes a lot to get Steffi Graf angry, but just for a moment the women's defending champion contemplated retribution against the Swiss umpire Andreas Egli in her third-round match against Natasha Zvereva at the US Open yesterday.

With Graf trailing 2-4 to the talented but mercurial Belarussian, she hit a trademark pounding forehand which both she and the line judge saw skid off the sideline for a winner, but Egli, who has had his fair share of run-ins with players, including Zvereva, over-ruled and called Graf's shot out.

"I'm usually not too upset about calls," Graf said, "but he said he saw a clear space between the line and the ball, which is a little strange to me because he was on the opposite side of the court. I was really upset, I was close to saying 'you'll be happy that you have a clear space between you and me' but perhaps it's better that I'm saying it now and not on the court."

The moment of irritation served to wake the champion out of her soporific start and she reeled off eight straight games to run out 6-4, 6-2 winner.

Her next opponent could be more than 12 years her junior, as in the fourth round she plays either Barbara Paulus of Austria or the 15-year-old Russian prodigy Anna Kournikova.

Graf took 58 minutes for her win, a quarter of the time it took the No 2 men's seed Michael Chang to beat his fellow American Vince Spadea, ranked 69. As Spadea prepared to serve for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set, not only Chang but the US Tennis Association stood to fall from grace, for it was the USTA which angered the majority of top players by seeding Chang above the world No 2 Thomas Muster in controvention of the ATP Tour rankings. Muster, the number three seed, was due to play Sergi Bruguera in the early hours of this morning.

Chang, whose best achievement at Flushing Meadow was reaching the 1992 semi-final which he lost in five-and-a-half hours to Stefan Edberg, confronted his moment of crisis by winning the next 11 points with some precision ground strokes, allowing him to level the match after three hours 50 minutes.

From then Chang always looked the stronger of the two, and although he dropped his serve in the decider, he broke the increasingly erratic Spadea twice to win 6-4 5-7 2-6 7-5 6-3 in three hours 49 minutes.

The match left the USTA facing a backlog of matches, with its feature afternoon match of Andre Agassi against Jan Siemerink not starting until the early evening. Although there has been no rain so far, the tournament has relatively little leeway if Hurricane Edouard or rain forecast for today and tomorrow should disrupt the schedule.

Today sees fourth round matches in the top half of the men's draw, which still features two former champions, Pete Sampras and Stefan Edberg, despite scares for both on Friday. Sampras was taken to a fifth set by the 47th- ranked Jiri Novak and was fortunate that the Czech played a bad fifth game in it as Sampras's strength seemed to be draining. Edberg was thankful for recurrence of a hamstring injury suffered by his opponent Bernd Karbacher, who had taken the first set against the 30-year-old Swede and looked to be performing the last rites on Edberg's grand slam career before the injury struck.

Edberg opens play today on the Stadium Court against Paul Haarhuis, while Britain's Tim Henman will close it against Todd Martin. Henman played his second round doubles yesterday with his upper left thigh strapped, though his coach David Felgate insisted it was only a precaution.

It means both players will go into the match below peak fitness. Martin was only able to play his second-round match against Italy's Andrea Gaudenzi thanks to heavy strapping on his playing arm. The American, who beat Henman in this year's Wimbledon quarter-finals, thanked "the training geniuses in the locker room" for bandaging him, although he was below strength in beating Gaudenzi in straight sets.

Henman is now only in the singles, after he and his American partner Patrick Galbraith lost 6-1 4-6 7-6 to the former world champions Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis after leading 5-3 in the tie-break.

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