Tennis: Hingis dealt a harsh lesson

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Reports from New York

Martina Hingis and Chanda Rubin, two of the players who represent the future of the women's game, followed each other on to the Stadium Court at the United States Open yesterday and failed to make the slightest impression on their elders.

Losing in straight sets to Gabriela Sabatini and Steffi Graf in the fourth round would seem par for the course, but the manner of the 14-year-old Hingis's defeat by Sabatini and the 19-year-old Rubin's by Graf caused a good deal of disappointment.

Their error-strewn performances were symptomatic of the current state of the WTA Tour. Rubin is ranked No 16 in the world and would have been seeded but for the fact that Monica Seles has returned to the game sharing the No 1 ranking with Graf. Hingis is ranked No 18 and rising.

Sabatini may have had a comparatively lean time at the major championships, but the 25-year-old Argentinian generated too much power for Hingis, who contributed 41 unforced errors in losing 6-2, 6-4.

So ended the Swiss prodigy's first year at the Grand Slams. She will mark her 15th birthday on the last day of the month, and can reflect upon a year on the Tour which has brought her victories against three top 10 players, Jana Novotna, Anke Huber and Magdalena Maleeva, and harsh lessons from Graf, Conchita Martinez, Lindsay Davenport, Mary Pierce and Sabatini.

Pace of shot is the biggest problem for Hingis, as Sabatini discovered as soon as she opened up with her groundstrokes. The Argentinian's powderpuff serve has been one of the jokes of the game, but yesterday she sealed the first set with a 97mph ace and repeated the feat to create the match point after 71 minutes.

Rubin's double-faults helped to make it an easy day for Graf, who coasted into the quarter-finals, 6-2, 6-2, after 53 minutes.

In the men's singles, Michael Stich required two minutes less than Sabatini and only 10 more than Graf to advance to the fourth round. The eighth seed, who was runner-up to Andre Agassi last year, dismissed Australia's Scott Draper, 6-3, 6-0, 6-3.

Agassi, who is among those scheduled to work on Labor Day today, knows better than to take matches for granted. Not one seeded player stands between the defending champion and a place in the semi-finals.

The latest to fall was Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who ended Agassi's prospects of completing a set of Grand Slam titles by defeating him in the French Open in June. The listless Russian seventh seed was beaten in the third round by Florida's Vince Spadea, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4. Spadea, ranked No 80, now meets the Czech Petr Korda, No 39, who was the runner-up to Jim Courier at the 1992 French Open but has achieved little of note since winning the Grand Slam Cup in 1993. Agassi, the world No 1, plays a compatriot, Jared Palmer, No 75, who defeated Britain's Tim Henman in the second round.

Boris Becker, who beat Agassi in the Wimbledon semi-finals, is projected to meet the American at the same stage here on Saturday. The German fourth seed first must overcome Marc Rosset, No 13, and one of two unseeded contenders, Patrick McEnroe or the Czech, Daniel Vacek. Agassi, who escaped defeat after being a break down in the fifth set against the cramp-stricken Alex Corretja in the second round, almost passed Stefan Edberg at will in beating the unseeded former champion, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 21