Tennis: Hingis tested en route to Venus

John Roberts reports on a day that saw the longest ever Grand Slam singles match
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The Independent Online
THE longest Grand Slam singles match ever recorded was completed at the French Open yesterday, Alex Corretja of Spain, nudging the Argentinian Hernan Gumy out of the third round, 6-1, 5-7, 6-7, 7-5, 9-7, after five hours and 31 minutes. This was five minutes more than Stefan Edberg's semi-final victory against Michael Chang at the 1992 United States Open.

Unlike yesterday's protagonists, Edberg and Chang were not interrupted by an overnight rain delay. Their match was part of the US Open's "Super Saturday", sandwiching the women's singles final between the men's semis. Consequently, Monica Seles and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario had to hang around Flushing Meadows for five hours and 26 minutes before they could play.

The way tennis is going, it does not seem wise to keep the women waiting, especially with a group of exciting teenagers vying for top billing. Tomorrow, for example, Martina Hingis and Venus Williams are due to meet in a quarter- final that has set the tournament buzzing after a week of listening to the men's seeds fall.

Apart from being a match of contrasting skills, the tall, powerful, athletic Williams pitting her agressive game against Hingis' array of shots and mature court-craft, there is a keen edge to the contest.

Hingis, the world No 1, will have collected all four Grand Slam championships if she wins the title here, having been too weary to counter an inspired Iva Majoli in last year's final. The Swiss leads the head-to-head with Williams, 5-2, including the US Open final last September. Williams' improvement is reflected in a 2-2 split of their matches this year.

After narrowly defeating the American recently in the Italian Open final, Hingis declared that in her eyes, Williams was the No 2 in the world. Since she arrived in Paris, however, Hingis has stressed that she is almost 3,000 ranking points ahead, "so you can't really say there are rivalries for me right now."

Hingis had a good workout yesterday, being forced to compete for virtually every point for 63 minutes in defeating Anna Smashnova of Israel, 6-1, 6-2. Williams, seeded No 8, overpowered Henrieta Nagyova, of Slovakia, 6-1, 6-3.

For a while it seemed that the 16-year-old Serena Williams was destined to join her older sister in the quarter-finals. Two points from beating Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the second set, Williams's nerves tightened and the Spaniard recovered to win, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, after two hours and 42 minutes.

It was a fiesty duel, Sanchez Vicario calling upon her vast experience, and protesting line calls, to advance to meet the Swiss Patty Schnyder in the last eight. Monica Seles strides on, defeating the American Chanda Rubin, 6-1, 6-4.

Marcelo Rios, favourite to win the men's singles, had his toughest test so far before defeating the Spaniard Albert Costa, 4-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. The physiotherpist, Bill Norris, was kept busy with Rios's various muscular ailments, and there was a good deal of arguing with the umpire and line judges. Sportsmanship reigned throughout Corretja's marathon against Gumy, and they embraced in mutual respect when battle was done. Corretja, who now plays his compatriot Carlos Moya, was asked what Spain needed to produce another champion like Sergi Bruguera. "Wait five more days," he said.

Britain's lamentable performance on the clay courts - from Greg Rusedski down - brought a stern rebuke from the Lawn Tennis Association yesterday. Richard Lewis, the LTA's director of international and professional tennis, criticised the "lack of determination and lack of self-belief I have seen in the last two weeks in the qualifying, the main draw and the juniors."

Greg Rusedski was the No 5 seed for the men's singles, and the first to fall on the opening day, defeated by the Belgian Johan Van Herck, 6- 4, 6-4, 6-4. Although Tim Henman followed shortly afterwards, a back injury caused the British No 2 to retire during the first set when trailing the Armenian, Sargis Sargsian, 2-5.

No Britons were able to battle through to the main singles draws from the qualifying tournament, in which the men failed to win a set, and the junior singles event was a one-man band. Simon Dickson, from Stockport, lost in the first round yesterday against Sweden's Johan Kareld, 6-4, 6-2.

"It's more than disappointing, it's not good enough," Lewis added. "It's no good telling them they can't play on this stuff when they can.''

David Sherwood, from Sheffield, was not entered from the junior tournament here as a disciplinary measure for his apparent "lack of effort" in the previous week's Astrid Bowl in Belgium.

l Triple champion Boris Becker will not play at Wimbledon this year. During an interview on Saturday, Becker was asked if he planned to compete in the Wimbeldon championships starting on 22 June. "No, I don't plan to." he replied. "People will have to get used to the idea that the tennis player Boris Becker belongs to the past."