Tauziat reclaims the tricolore from Pierce

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The Independent Online
TREVOR HAYLETT

Mary Pierce is a star whose allure reaches out to all parts of the globe, said Nathalie Tauziat yesterday after they had crossed swords on the Centre Court. The problem from Pierce's point of view is that it makes her a prized scalp that all her contemporaries want to claim. Tauziat more than most.

The fact that Pierce, who was born in Montreal but elected to play under the French flag thereby supplanting Tauziat as that country's No 1, added a large measure of spice to what was already a tasty dish. One which boiled spectacularly in the sun and led to the No 4 seed's early departure on her first visit to Wimbledon.

The cut and thrust played out enthrallingly over 104 minutes made it the best contest of the championships so far before Greg Rusedski came along to do his bit for the mother country.

Tauziat, ranked 20th in the world, spent the first eight years of her life in the central African Republic of Bangui, but no matter, she had taken pride from her status as the premier player before Pierce came along. Her 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory on Pierce's debut appearance on the most famous court of all went some way to claiming back the ground she had lost.

Tauziat denied such dark thoughts, but her on-court animation and total delight in her success told a different story. She greeted the fortunate net cord that gave her the first set with arms outstretched towards the heavens, rather than by offering apologies to her adversary.

"I did not play Mary to say I could be No 1 again," said the 27-year- old, who has made at least the third round in each of the last five years. "I wanted to win because that would give me more matches here."

So the 20-year-old, upright and regal, will have to find another Wimbledon in which to reign. It was not that she played especially poorly, just that every time she looked to be inching back into the contest her rival would come out with something better. A solid backhand served Tauziat very well indeed, while her win last week at Eastbourne was preparation that was to tell.

From the third game Pierce was behind. She pounded her forehands relentlessly from the back court. But it was mostly one-dimensional. This might have been her stage but it is definitely not her surface. She raised her game to square the match at one set all but Tauziat refused to relent. In the deciding set she broke Pierce three times and the golden girl was gone.

Yes, Pierce had to admit the Centre Court experience had got to her a little. "It's a weird feeling, because it is very open out there and you have to really concentrate to stay focused. I would have liked to have done a little better, but I have had fun and now I look forward to next year."

The women's competition has been given an added edge with the revelation that Steffi Graf may still be troubled by long-standing injuries. Her with- drawal from the doubles, where she had intended to partner Martina Navratilova, stemmed from a new problem in her back.

However her coach, Heinz Gunthardt, says there is no possibility that she will be forced out of the singles. "She made a movement that hurt her back, but it's nothing dramatic," he said.

At least Navratilova has found a partner at last for the mixed doubles to extend her playing career here. She will team up with Jonathan Stark.

Amy Frazier was the second women's seed to fall yesterday, the American beaten 6-1, 6-3 by Irina Spirlea of Romania. The defending champion, Conchita Martinez, was required to dig deep at times to ward off the 18-year-old German Jana Kandarr before she advanced 6-4, 6-3.

Chanda Rubin's 7-6, 6-7, 17-15 defeat of Patricia Hy-Boulais in 3hr 45min established two records for this event: it set a new mark for total games played and the deciding set was the most games played in women's singles or doubles here.

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