Graf beaten on clay by Hingis

Tennis

Tennis

Martina Hingis gave the world No 1, Steffi Graf, her first defeat on clay in almost two years yesterday when she beat the German in the quarter- finals of the Italian Open in Rome.

The 15-year-old Swiss sixth seed demonstrated why she is tipped as a future champion, recovering from the loss of the first set to win 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 for the best victory of her short career.

"I've just beaten the world No 1," an ecstatic Hingis, ranked 20 in the world, said. "It feels great."

For Graf, unbeaten in tournaments this year and winner of three of last year's four grand slams, it was the first defeat on clay since she lost to Mary Pierce in the French Open semi-finals two years ago.

The 26-year-old German, playing her first tournament of the season on clay, has struggled all week to adapt her game to the slow Foro Italico surface. A flow of unforced forehand errors was largely to blame for her defeat by Hingis.

"I've got to get physically in shape for Paris," Graf said, adding that she would not be ask for a wild-card entry for next week's Berlin Open. "I'll take some days off, try to relax a bit," she said.

In the first set Graf appeared to have ironed out the problems she had shown in earlier rounds. Three of the first four games went to deuce but, at 2-2, the German turned on the power, breaking serve twice to take the next four games and the set.

At the start of the second set, however, Hingis started showing the talent which made her the youngest-ever quarter-finalist at the Australian Open in January.

Mixing her game by coming up to the net and surprising her opponent with neat drop shots, Hingis broke Graf's service three times to level at one set each. Refusing to be overawed by an opponent 11 years her senior and due to set a record of 332 total weeks as world No 1 next week, Hingis broke serve in the fourth game of the final set to take a 3-1 lead.

Graf broke back, but the crisis was not over as the German's erratic groundstrokes gave Hingis three break-points in the eighth game.

Two were saved but on the third the German served a double fault to go 5-3 down. Five points later it was all over.

"It was a great chance for me to beat her because she hasn't been playing that many tournaments lately," said Hingis, ''but I haven't won anything, I've just reached the semi-finals."

n Pete Sampras, the world No 1, has withdrawn from next week's Italian Open following the death of his coach and close friend Tim Gullikson. Michael Chang has also pulled out because of an injury.

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