Hingis plays by her rules

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The last woman to do the Grand Slam of winning all four major titles in the same year was Steffi Graf in 1988. Already it does not seem too soon to wonder whether Martina Hingis can match the feat in 1997.

Having won her first Grand Slam event at the Australian Open at the start of the year, the 16-year-old now has the French Open in her sights after she swept aside another prodigy, Anna Kournikova of Russia, in yesterday's third round. There was none of the uncertainty Hingis had betrayed in her second-round meeting with the Italian Gloria Pizzichini as she strolled to a 6-1 6-3 victory in a mere 42 minutes.

The future of the women's game was written all over this match. At 15 - she turns 16 next Saturday - Kournikova is a would-be Hingis herself, with a reputation as a junior almost as formidable. The difference is that whereas Hingis has had unrestricted access to the professional circuit since she made her WTA Tour debut at barely 14, Kournikova has been subject to a change in the eligibility rule brought in later to try to protect younger teenagers from life in tennis's hothouse.

Swivelling idly in her chair in the press conference room afterwards, Kournikova reflected, somewhat resentfully, on the the fact she has been able to play only 10 tournaments in the year since she turned 15, a figure that will go up to 13 for the next 12 months. "This match was a perfect example of not being allowed to play more," she said. "I have much more pressure on me because I cannot get the experience the way Martina can."

No doubt there is some truth in this. But it also overlooks the two meetings Kournikova and Hingis had as juniors - at Wimbledon and the US Open in 1994 - when Hingis won 6-4 6-3 and 6-0 6-0. "I knew I always beat her, always been better than her," said Hingis loftily.

It certainly has not taken Hingis long to become rather grand in her dealings with people. Her match against Kournikova was originally scheduled to be first on the Centre Court, which would have meant an 11am start. "I'm not a very good morning person," she said. "Everyone knows that I just don't go out to play first match there." The knee injury she still has not quite got over since she fell from a horse two months ago was another factor, so she asked for the match to be put back. "I'm the No 1 in the world," she added, "so I should have the right to say what time I want to play."

The match eventually took place in afternoon sunshine, with a stiff breeze keeping the flags flying on the court's parapets and blowing up clouds of red dust that caused the players to turn and shield their eyes. As a pure stroke-maker, Kournikova gave nothing to her opponent, but Hingis's court craft was in a different league. As one observer remarked, "Kournikova plays shots, Hingis plays points."

There were a couple of statistical curios: the match contained no deuces and the four games Kournikova won she did so for the loss of a single point. The last of these was when she broke Hingis to 3-5 in the second set, thus salvaging some dignity.

Monica Seles, champion here from 1990-92, spent only 10 minutes longer on the court than Hingis had in beating the local Natalie Tauziat, 6- 0 6-1. It is nearly two years since Seles re-appeared on the scene, and she still has just the one Grand Slam title to show for her comeback - that can be blamed, to a large part, on a succession of injuries.

The all-out attacking Seles remains a distant memory, to herself as much as anyone. "I'm getting too defensive too often," she said. But she is happy not to be so much the centre of attention now, and nobody will relish meeting her. In today's fourth round she will meet Mary Pierce, a 6-3 6-1 winner over Sandrine Testud, also of France.

The upsets occurred in the men's event, where there are just six seeds left in the last 16. The biggest casualty of the day was the No 6 seed and last year's Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek, who lost in four sets to Patrick Rafter of Australia. Rafter now meets his compatriot Mark Woodforde, a surprise winner over Spain's Albert Costa, and there is the guarantee of at least one non-seed in the semi-finals.

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