Tennis: Draw gives Graf tough opener

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The Independent Online
HAVING rid themselves of the dust of the French Open, and perhaps also the disappointment that accompanied it, Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf, the Wimbledon champions, had contrasting fortunes in yesterday's draw.

Sampras appears reasonably safe in the opening rounds and is projected to renew acquaintance with Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the last 16. Though the young Russian tested the world No 1 for five sets at the Australian Open and has been granted a seeding at No 15, he is paying his first visit to the All England Club.

With Sergi Bruguera, the French Open champion, likely to be ambushed in the second round by an Australian (Patrick Rafter or Jamie Morgan), assuming he accounts for Lancashire's Barry Cowan in the first round, and Michael Chang unsure of himself on grass, Sampras's game could be nicely tuned in time for a semi-final against Stefan Edberg, Todd Martin or Andre Agassi.

Graf, who is accustomed to romping through early matches, begins her defence against Lori McNeil, one of the most dangerous of the unseeded players in the women's draw. The 30-year-old from Houston, who has an attacking style meriting a better record than a quarter-final in 1986, won last week's Edgbaston tournament.

In November 1992, McNeil eliminated Graf in the opening round of the Virginia Slims Championships at Madison Square Garden, becoming the lowest ranked player (No 18) to defeat the German since Australia's Anne Minter in 1985.

If Graf prevails, her prospects are promising, particularly since Mary Pierce, her conqueror in the semi-finals in Paris and a possible opponent in the last four here, makes her Wimbledon debut by duelling with a French compatriot, Julie Halard.

Martina Navratilova's farewell appearance could have an extended run. Drawn in the opposite half to Graf, the nine-times champion plays Claire Taylor, a British wild card, in the opening round.

Jana Novotna, whose campaign to return to the final could be handicapped by an arm injury, is projected to meet Navratilova in the quarter-finals, with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario probably waiting in the semi-finals.

In the lower half of the men's draw, Michael Stich, the No 2 seed, could be under threat from the unseeded Richard Krajicek in the third round. Boris Becker, due to continue his rivalry with Stich in the quarter-finals, has much to ponder with a first-round match against David Wheaton.

Jim Courier, the runner-up a year ago, is grouped in the early rounds with Guy Forget, Henrik Holm and Wally Masur in a quarter that may favour Goran Ivanisevic. Jeremy Bates, the British No 1, is in Courier's section, and a win for Bates against Italy's Gianluca Pozzi in the opening round could be rewarded with a match against the American MaliVai Washington.

National interest in the men's draw will also focus on matches between Mark Petchey and Jonas Bjorkman, Chris Bailey and Javier Frana, Andrew Foster and Guillaume Raoux, Tim Henman and David Prinosil, Nick Gould and Jaime Yzaga, and Miles Maclagan and Markus Zoecke.

Clare Wood has an opening match against Ruxandra Dragomir, of Romania, and Jo Durie plays Anke Huber, the 12th seed, whom she defeated at the French Open two years ago.