Pierce jeered as Rittner advances

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The Independent Online
Whistles of admiration turned to ones of derision here yesterday when Mary Pierce was jeered from the Centre Court at the French Open by spectators who on better days have embraced her as their own. Cute dress, pity about the tennis.

Pierce, the No 12 seed, had been eliminated in the third round by Barbara Rittner, 6-4, 6-2, beaten as much by her own error-strewn play as the efficiency of an unseeded German opponent. The crowd had looked forward to seeing the Montreal-born Pierce renew her rivalry with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who had ended her prospects of winning the title for France in the 1994 final. On reflection, they were probably relieved to be spared the possibility of further embarrassment in the fourth round.

This may not be an ideal time to play Sanchez Vicario, who scurried past Elena Likhovtseva, 6-0, 6-0, a result which made one wonder how the Spaniard had lost to the Russian in Berlin a couple of weeks ago, 6-0 in the third set. "I didn't play as good as today," was Sanchez Vicario's explanation.

Although Pierce had experienced a similar sour reaction from Parisian spectators after losing to Germany's Petra Begerow during an indoor event here in February, she was clearly shaken on this occasion.

Unfortunately, she did not allow time to regain her composure before entering the interview room, where the performance she gave was also less than distinguished. "You know, shit happens," Pierce said when questioned about the errors which had zoomed from her forehand. "Fine me," she added. "Sorry, that's the only thing I could think of."

Wisely, the 21-year-old Pierce exercised restraint when asked if she thought the spectators had been fair. "You can never say the crowd is fair or not here," she said. "It's not the first time it's happened to me. If they whistled when I walked off the court today, there's nothing I can do about it."

Pierce's progress at the Grand Slam championships has been a series of disappointments since her triumph at the 1995 Australian Open. She was eliminated in the second round when defending that title in January.

She would be advised to consult her current coaching team about ridding her game of confusion before Wimbledon. Since parting company with the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy two months ago, Pierce has worked with Brad Gilbert and his assistant, Joe Giuliano. Gilbert, of course, also needs to revive Andre Agassi, a second-round loser. The 15-year-old Martina Hingis was another casualty. The No 15 seed lost to Karina Habsudova of Slovakia 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Monica Seles, co-seeded No 1 with Steffi Graf, came close to dropping a set. Her serve was broken by the unseeded Belgian Sabine Appelmans in the opening set, and Seles then found herself 1-4 in arrears in the second set. She responded with characteristic determination, disputing one or two line calls between belting winning shots, and confidence gradually drained from Appelmans, who double-faulted on match point.

In the fourth round, Seles will play the No 13 seed Magdalena Maleeva of Bulgaria. They have met twice before, each credited with a win. Neither is likely to forget their last encounter, a quarter-final in Hamburg on 30 April, 1993. Statistically it counts as a win for Maleeva, 6-4, 4-3 retired. What occurred, of course, is that Gunther Parche, a spectator, intervened with a kitchen knife.

Pete Sampras, No 1 seed in the men's singles, is happy to be able to take a day off, having advanced to the last 16. "This is the toughest first week I've ever had in a major," the Wimbledon champion said.

If battling through five sets against Sergi Bruguera in the second round were not enough, Sampras was locked in another marathon yesterday, overcoming his compatriot Todd Martin 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.

Sampras finished the job with his 20th ace. Martin delivered 29 of them, but the rest of his game was not as reliable as that of his opponent.

Cooler weather yesterday helped Sampras. "I actually felt pretty fresh considering the long match with Sergi," he said. "I felt I competed well."

Sampras now plays Scott Draper, an Australian ranked No 99, who ended Jeff Tarango's participation in Grand Slam tennis - at least until after Wimbledon - by winning 6-1, 6-2, 6-3. Tarango, you may remember, is banned from the All-England Club next month following his outburst last year.

Jim Courier advanced at the expense of Karol Kucera of Slovakia who retired in the fourth set after injuring a foot.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 28

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