Tennis: Hingis on the verge of Grand Slam history

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The Independent Online
Martina Hingis is just one step away from becoming the youngest winner of a Grand Slam tournament this century after beating Mary Joe Fernandez in straight sets in the Australian Open women's singles semi-finals here yesterday.

But the day's biggest upset belonged to Spain's Carlos Moya, who succeeded where Tim Henman failed by defeating the second seed, Michael Chang, to clinch a place in the men's final.

Hingis, at 16 years, three months and 26 days on the day of the final, could become the youngest Grand Slam champion since the amateur Lottie Dod won the first of her five Wimbledons in 1887 at the age of 15 years and 10 months. And she could become the youngest-ever world No 1 as well. Monica Seles holds the record - 17 years, three months and nine days - but Hingis will rise to No 2 whether or not she wins tomorrow's final.

"I just played an unbelievable match," said Hingis after her 6-1, 6-3 victory. "I wasn't nervous at all and I played very good tennis." Hingis had promised to play aggressively against the 14th seed, but she hardly needed to. She hovered around the baseline dictating the pace of the match for all but a brief period.

Fernandez, who broke Hingis's serve once in the first set without holding her own, saved two match points at 5-1 in the second as Hingis angrily questioned a line-call. Serving for the match at 5-2, Hingis allowed herself to become distracted and was broken again.

Fernandez continued to grow in confidence but Hingis stepped up a gear, breaking her opponent's serve with a fierce crosscourt forehand pass to wrap up victory in 69 minutes.

Hingis's opponent in the final will be France's Mary Pierce, who was at her best against South Africa's Amanda Coetzer in the other semi-final. Pierce beat the 12th seed 7-5, 6-1 and said she was hungry to repeat her title win of two years ago.

"Last year if someone had told me I would be here now, I wouldn't have believed them," said Pierce, who took three months off the game last year to overcome a prolonged slump in form and a shoulder injury. "I was going through hard times."

Pierce served and passed the ball deep into Coetzer's court to build up a 5-1 first-set lead, but saw Coetzer break her next two service games to even the score. The South African beat world No 1 Steffi Graf in the fourth round and Pierce's fans began to fear her fragile confidence would once again let her down. But Pierce held her nerve and serve in the next game, before breaking Coetzer with a cracking forehand pass to win the set.

Moya, the man who beat defending champion Boris Becker in the first round, can savour the best result of his career. "Today I did something big, I played in an unbelievable way," he said after his 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 win.

Chang has not won a Grand Slam title since lifting the French Open as a 17-year-old in 1989, but has played the most consistent tennis of any major name in Melbourne. Moya seemed unimpressed by Chang's reputation, quickly establishing his dominance on the baseline and coming forward as Chang's shots fell short.

"I knew before the match that I had to take risks to beat him. If you stay on the baseline against him you lose," said Moya, who has won just two Tour titles, both on clay.

Chang made a third-set challenge, building up a 3-1 and 40-15 lead on his serve, but Moya managed to step up his game and prevent the match dragging out into a fourth set.

The second men's semi-final, between Pete Sampras and Thomas Muster, is today with the final on Sunday.

Britain's last hope of senior success in Melbourne ended yesterday when Neil Broad and his South African partner Piet Norval were beaten 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 by the seventh seeds Sebastien Lareau of Canada and American Alex O'Brien in the men's doubles quarter-finals.

Results, Digest, page 27