Tennis: Graf thrashed by Pierce's power and nerve: World No 1 falls in straight sets to born-again Frenchwoman as two Spaniards fight for the right to the final

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The Independent Online
MARY PIERCE may have been born in Canada and raised in the United States, but the moment she defeated Steffi Graf on the most hallowed court of her adopted country yesterday, she became as French as Suzanne Lenglen.

Famous until then for having a disruptive father, Jim, who was escorted from these grounds a year ago and banned from future tournaments, the tall, blonde 19-year- old destroyed the world's leading player, 6-2, 6-2, in 77 minutes.

Unleashing a forehand at least as powerful as Graf's at its best - which certainly was not the case yesterday - Pierce controlled the match from the opening point and did not lose her concentration even when rain interrupted the contest for 40 minutes after she had broken to lead 3-2 in the second set.

When the sun returned, Pierce allowed her opponent only four more points. She had demonstrated the strength of her nerve by saving three break points in the concluding game of the first set, and, when it came to the crunch in the second set, there was not even a hint of the choking which cost Jana Novotna the opportunity of defeating Graf in the Wimbledon final last July.

'It is a dream for me to beat the No 1 player in the world here at Roland Garros in front of thousands of the French public,' the 12th seed said. Graf had reached the final in her previous 20 tournaments, losing in only three.

The victory puts Pierce into the final tomorrow against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who caused a sensation here in 1989 by taking the French Open title from Graf. The Spaniard also inflicted a 6-0, 6-2 defeat on Graf in the 1991 semi- finals, and is the only other player to have beaten the German this year.

Pierce is the first player to defeat Graf in a Grand Slam championship since she was beaten by Monica Seles in the final of the Australian Open in January last year, four months before Seles was stabbed on a court in Hamburg.

Having taken the nationality of her mother, Yannick, though continuing to be based at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Acadamy in Florida, Pierce becomes the first French finalist since Francoise Durr in 1967. En route to the final Pierce has conceded only 10 games, a French Open record in the open era.

Graf, the winner of 15 Grand Slam titles, three of them here at Roland Garros, was able to swallow her disappointment and agree that Pierce's startling victory gives a much-needed boost to the women's game. 'It's very healthy, exciting for the spectators and for television,' she said. 'It's definitely a good thing, but it's difficult for me to say that right now.'

The sun did not shine at all on the first semi-final, a contest as damp as the conditions. Sanchez Vicario advanced to her fifth Grand Slam final by defeating her compatriot, Conchita Martinez,

6-3, 6-1 in 72 minutes.

Martinez was broken in the opening game and closing games of the first set, which was completed in 40 minutes. Sanchez Vicario, moving about the baseline with customary zeal, was helped by her opponent's unforced errors, particularly on overhead shots.

Had Martinez capitalised on one of three break points she created in the opening game of the second set, the pattern of the match may have been altered. But after producing three impressive winners she reverted to errors, and compounded her problems by driving a forehand into the net on game point before being broken in the next game.

A rumble of thunder accompanied another Sanchez Vicario break, to go 4-0 ahead, and though Martinez contrived to deliver a winning smash which helped her retrieve a break in the next game, she won only two more points.

FRENCH OPEN (Paris) Women's singles semi- finals: A SANCHEZ VICARIO (Sp) bt C MARTINEZ (Sp) 6-3 6-1; M PIERCE (Fr) bt S GRAF (Ger) 6-2 6-2. Men's doubles semi-final: B BLACK (Zim) and J STARK (US) bt D ADAMS (Aus) and A OLHOVSKIY (Rus) 6-3 6-3. Mixed doubles semi-finals: K Boogert and M Oosting (Neth) bt M McGRATH and S MELVILLE (US) 0-6 6-2 6-3; L NEILAND (Lat) and A OLHOVSKIY (Rus) bt H SUKOVA (Cz Rep) and T WOODBRIDGE (Aus) 7-6 6-2.

Edberg loses, page 38