Tennis: Danger man, danger woman by Ronald Atkin

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The Independent Online
MARAT SAFIN

HAVING battled through the qualifying stages of the French Open, Marat Safin went on to reach the fourth round at his first Grand Slam and if his performance at Roland Garros was any sort of form guide this 6ft 4in 18-year-old Spain-based Russian is primed to inflict some mayhem at Wimbledon. On the strength of his eye-catching play in Paris, where he knocked out Andre Agassi in a first- round five-setter and then beat the reigning champion Gustavo Kuerten, again in five sets, Safin was offered a wild card into Wimbledon. Safin's powerful serve is certain to be a big plus factor and though he is still learning the art of volleying he is learning quickly. If he can get past a tough first round against the experienced Andrei Medvedev and then perhaps a second-round clash with Goran Ivanisevic, Safin could make significant progress though he has played only 12 matches in his first-class career (won six, lost six), including a debut for Russia in the Davis Cup against the United States in Atlanta this year, where he took Jim Courier to five sets. Other men who are capable of floating while stinging hard are the big-serving Swedish giants, Thomas Enqvist and Magnus Larsson, and the American Todd Martin, who was a semi-finalist as recently as 1996.

SERENA WILLIAMS

ALTHOUGH it is a tough act to follow, Serena Williams is already giving strong indications that she could turn out to be even better than her sister Venus, just as Venus has predicted. The 16-year-old Serena has shown a greater aptitude for grass than Venus and reached the Eastbourne quarter-finals last week. Though her schedule is still limited by the Women's Tennis Association's age eligibility laws, Serena has failed in only one of her seven tournaments this year, losing to her big sister in the Australian Open second round. She has been a semi-finalist in Sydney, a quarter-finalist in the tournaments at Oklahoma, Key Biscayne and Rome as well as Eastbourne and got to the fourth round at Roland Garros. Her top 10 victims this year include Lindsay Davenport, Conchita Martinez and Irina Spirlea (twice). Serena could be playing another 16-year-old prodigy, Mirjana Lucic, in the second round and then, if successful, Anna Kournikova. In addition to Serena and Lucic, other floaters capable of inflicting shocks are Belgium's Sabine Appelmans in Arantxa Sanchez Vicario's section of the draw and the Croatian Iva Majoli, who is not seeded despite having won the 1997 French Open. She could make inroads in a section where Martinez and France's Nathalie Tauziat look vulnerable seeds.

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