Sabatini banishes the bad memories

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reports from New York

Gabriela Sabatini exorcised one of her ghosts yesterday by defeating Mary Joe Fernandez to advance to the semi-finals of the United States Open. The Argentinian managed to banish the memory of her match against the American at the French Open in 1993, when she lost in three sets after leading 6-1, 5-1, and having five match points.

Yesterday, Sabatini again advanced to 6-1, 5-1, chiefly through errors by her opponent, who appeared to be weary from her victory against the defending champion, Aranxta Sanchez Vicario, in the previous round, but held her nerve just when match points began to appear and disappear again.

She required seven - the first three on Fernandez's serve, and three more on her own - before winning 6-1, 6-3, after following her serve into the net and prompting Fernandez to misdirect a forehand over the baseline.

Michael Chang, who has worked hard to strengthen his serve to combat the power of his rivals, was detained by a double-fault en route to the men's quarter-finals. It cost the fifth seed a set when leading 2-0 against Michael Tebbutt, an Australian ranked No 119 in the world. Fortunately for Chang, his opponent was even more erratic, double-faulting 16 times, five of them on break points. Otherwise it would have taken Chang even longer than two hours and 15 minutes to win, 6-2, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

One local fellow is having a good run, continuing a family tradition and causing a good deal of excitement in the television commentary box. The name is McEnroe. Having long-since shed inhibitions about playing the same sport - if not the same game - as his older brother, Patrick McEnroe is revelling in his best showing at his home championships. John, the turbulent one, is also enjoying every moment of it behind the microphone.

Patrick has never allowed sibling rivalry to affect his career, acknowledging from the outset that he could never match a brother whose unique talent and appalling temper featured in seven Grand Slam singles triumphs, four of them accomplished in New York.

A sense of humour has helped. On reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 1991, Patrick said: "Lendl, Edberg, Becker and McEnroe - no surprises." That is the one Grand Slam championship in which Patrick managed to advance as far as his brother, who made the last four in 1983 when the tournament was played on grass at Kooyong. Patrick was denied a place in the final by Boris Becker at Flinders Park, the German winning the title.

Becker now stands between Patrick and a place in the semi-finals. Although the fourth seed is strongly fancied to meet Andre Agassi, the defending champion, in the last four, the No 42-ranked McEnroe can already reflect upon a rousing night on the Stadium Court.

A fourth-round win against the Czech Daniel Vacek, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4, helped make amends for his last visit to the Stadium in 1991. On that occasion, McEnroe led Jimmy Connors by two sets and a break in the opening round, only for the 39-year-old Jimbo to stage a characteristic recovery and surge on to the semi-finals.

There were shades of Connors in McEnroe's third-round match against the Russian Alexander Volkov, in which the American fought back from two sets in arrears to win 6-2 in the fifth. Patrick displayed a good deal of passion, and John contended that his brother should show emotion in his play more often: "If it does not sound too shocking, he should be more like me." Perish the thought.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 25