Graf drawn to new Martina on return to lawns

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The Independent Online

Steffi versus Martina on the Centre Court at Wimbledon - so what's new? The Martina in question is 14 years old, that's what.

Twelve months ago, the draw dealt Steffi Graf an ominous opening match against the 30-year-old Lori McNeil, one of the few unseeded players capable of an early upset. Graf went into the record books as the only defending women's champion ever to lose in the first round.

For her first grass-court match since that wet Tuesday, the five-times champion is confronted with the raw talent of Martina Hingis, the Czech- born Swiss who managed to slip through the door to the professional tour before it began to be closed by an age eligibility commission.

Graf won her 16th Grand Slam singles title at the French Open 11 days ago. Having stabilised a chronic back injury, she has dropped only two sets in an unbeaten sequence of 25 matches this year, including a 6-2, 6-3 win when first encountering Hingis in the quarter-finals of an indoor event in Paris in February.

Hingis at least can boast greater success than the world No1 on the All England Club's lawns last year. She won the junior singles championship. This is her third Grand Slam event since turning professional last October. She lost in the second round of the Australian Open and won the opening set against Lindsay Davenport, the No7 seed, in the third round of the French championships.

The youngster advanced to her first final, in Hamburg in May, defeating Jana Novotna en route, only to be overwhelmed by Conchita Martinez. Such is the state of the women's game, Hingis has risen to No 19 in the rankings, just missing a seeding.

Graf was 15 when making her Wimbledon debut in 1984, advancing to the last 16 before losing to Britain's Jo Durie, 2-6, 6-3, 9-7. The irony is that Graf is preparing to play doubles with the original Martina, the 38-year-old Navratilova, who retired shortly after losing to Martinez in last year's emotional singles final.

Martinez, seeded No3, has avoided the possibility of a semi-final against Graf by being placed in the lower half with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Martinez could meet McNeil in the quarter-finals, a round earlier than last year. Sanchez Vicario is projected to play Mary Pierce in the quarter-finals.

In the men's singles, Andre Agassi, the world No1, could meet Andrei Medvedev in the fourth round, Michael Stich in the quarters and Boris Becker in the semis. Becker may face his old rival, Stefan Edberg, in the fourth round. If Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic trade serves this time it will be in the semi-finals, not the final. Sampras, who hopes to become the first man since Bjorn Borg to win the title on three consecutive years, is projected to play Guy Forget in the fourth round and Sergi Bruguera or Marc Rosset in the quarters.

Greg Rusedski's inaugural Wimbledon appearance with GB plates will be against Jim Grabb, an experienced, big-serving American who is hardly cannon fodder for a player who has lost his first two matches since switching allegiance from Canada. The winner may play Forget, who opens against Yorkshire's Gary Henderson.

Jeremy Bates has a potentially difficult opener against the American Derrick Rostagno, whose ranking at No300 is a consequence of injury rather than a reflection of his form.

Tim Henman has drawn Paul Wekesa, of Kenya, with the possibility of a second-round match against Sampras. Mark Petchey plays Mats Wilander, the 30-year-old former world No 1 who is never comfortable on grass but is enjoying his tennis again. Chris Wilkinson meets Germany's Hendrik Dreekman, and Ross Matheson faces David Wheaton.

Wimbledon draw, page 31