Graf dominates after rusty start

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The Independent Online
Maybe Ludmila Richterova's confidence is resilient enough to withstand a battering, but just in case the Czech thought she had a slight chance of winning on Centre Court yesterday, she should have peeked at the Wimbledon programme. "Thinly disguised as cannon fodder" is not the description you would want to show to a prospective sponsor.

Then again there are a lot of women for whom that cap fits when they are facing Richterova's opponent. Shocks happen to Steffi Graf, but they normally come in the shape of static electricity when the cleaner's ill and she dusts the television. Two years ago the six-time champion was defeated in the first round; her next surprise on the lawns of the All England Club is due after the millennium.

It certainly looked unlikely to arrive any earlier yesterday. Graf played poorly, had barely practised and was running gingerly, half expecting her left knee to send a shooting pain up her leg. Among the men, if the world's No 75 found the top seed in such a wretched condition, then he would be confident of making ripples, but this is the distaff, and therefore upset- resistant, side of the game. Richterova did not have a hope.

Outside a select company of about a dozen opponents, Graf, with an injured knee, is about as vulnerable as a tank with a dodgy windscreen wiper and once the German had got the rest-induced rustiness out of her limbs she mowed Richterova down, 6-4, 6-1 in the space of 53 minutes. Canon fodder seemed like a generous description by the end.

Graf had not spared her opponent's reputation on the court and she hardly reined back afterwards. Someone pointed out her backhand return was less than lethal, to which she said her other wing was not exactly flying either. "Backhand and forehand," she replied. "I didn't have any preference. Either way was difficult." If someone had just taken eight games out of the last nine, you hope she says she is playing well.

More taxing in these Euro 96-inspired xenophobic times was the inevitable question about England's football semi-final against Germany. "I heard that you keep on asking that to everyone who comes in here," she said with a smile." Her prediction? "Not in this room."

Talking to German journalists she was less circumspect, however, saying that she regarded her team's chances as "quite good". An answer to the tabloids' "Let's blitz Fritz" theme, it was not.

The blitzing among the women yesterday, like it had been on Monday, was being done by the seeds. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Anke Huber, Brenda Schultz- McCarthy and Lindsey Davenport went through in straight sets while Mary Joe Fernandez beat Jana Kandar, 6-0, 6-0. With Britain's No 1 Clare Wood squandering three match points before losing, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 to Germany's Claudia Porwick, there seemed to be a predictability to it all.

Which makes the antics of people like the eccentric American, Murphy Jensen, even more interesting when he is held up in contrast. Last year he jilted Schultz-McCarthy on the mixed doubles court and went missing for 24 hours, an absence that was never properly explained until yesterday. "He was all ready to go," Shultz-McCarthy said, "and he forgot his shorts, got stuck in the traffic and was 15 minutes late. It could happen to all of us." She paused. "But not all of us would go fishing. That was the problem."

n The American brothers, Luke and Murphy Jensen, wanted to wear England football shirts for their doubles match today but were refused.