TENNIS; Graf honoured as Hingis eyes defence of title

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ON A night when a tearful Steffi Graf was honoured as one of the game's all-time greats, Martina Hingis further branded herself as the best of this year's crop.

Hingis, the world No 1, began the defence of her title in the Chase Championship on Tuesday with a 7-6, 7-6 victory over Sandrine Testud, of France. But she was annoyed at having to wait around while Graf was honoured. "It was a pain in the ...," she said. "I have great respect for what she achieved, but she could have done it a little earlier," joked Hingis, who was on the losing end of Graf's final Grand Slam title at Roland Garros this year.

Before the day reached its emotional high with the tribute to the recently retired Graf, Serena Williams withdrew after injuring her back in practice. Instead of playing the US Open champion, Belgium's Dominique Van Roost faced the last-minute replacement Elena Likhovtseva and came away with an easy 6-2, 6-3 win.

Hingis, winning her 69th singles match this year - she has lost 12 - had to struggle for 48 minutes before securing the opening set against Testud, whom she has beaten in all six career meetings. Following an exchange of breaks, the hard-hitting baseliners held serve the rest of the way. In the tie-break, Hingis won five consecutive points for a 6-2 lead, but Testud closed the gap to 6-5 before Hingis ended the set with a smash.

Hingis, carrying the momentum of the opening set, had break point to go 3-0 up in the second set. Instead, Testud held and then broke in the fourth game for 2-2. Testud had a set point at 5-4, but Hingis held with a backhand down the line as the set again reached a tie-break which she controlled to take the match. Hingis now plays Mary Pierce in the quarter- finals.

Van Roost took full advantage of the day's turn of events with her victory over Likhovtseva. From 3-2 in the first set Van Roost won the next eight games, carrying her to 5-0 in the second set. Serving for the match, the 26-year-old had match point, only to see Likhovtseva break and then capture the next two games. But Van Roost converted her second match point to earn a quarter-final match against Nathalie Tauziat who beat South Africa's Amanda Coetzer 6-3, 7-6.

While Van Roost was a lucky winner, Likhovtseva can be considered a fortunate loser. In defeat, the 24-year-old Russian is $30,000 (pounds 18,000) richer than she thought she would be at the start of the day.