Tennis: Kournikova rises above court feud

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The Independent Online
CLAD APPROPRIATELY in a gold dress, that hot property Anna Kournikova shimmered into the fourth round of the French Open on the sultriest of days at Roland Garros. But it was what was implied, rather than what actually happened on court, during her 6-1 3-6 6-0 victory over the Swiss, Patty Schnyder, which left an unpleasant taste. It seems the girls don't get on.

To be blunt, they can't stand the sight of each other and, sadly, the feud has affected Schnyder's on-court attitude to such an extent that the 11th seed appeared to give up in the final set.

As if poor Schnyder hadn't gone through a bad enough year already, after her controversial involvement with the German guru, Rainer Harnecker, who is under investigation by the German police. Yesterday's contest, with fists raised, knuckles bared and smouldering glances being thrown like custard pies, was not much of a match but it was brimming with barely suppressed mutual disgust.

This was the 17-year-old Kournikova's fourth straight win over Schnyder. It was at the first of these matches, in Amelia Island, Florida, just over a year ago, that it all started, with Schnyder complaining she was verbally abused by the Kournikova mother and a victim of dubious sportsmanship by the daughter. Schnyder would only confirm that her problem with the Russian was "personal''. The pity is that she has permitted it to affect her commitment adversely. "You could all see how I played," she said at a media conference yesterday, "so you can write about that." Kournikova swatted the matter aside, saying: "There are a thousand players on the tour. We don't know each other very well."

Kournikova's fourth-round reward is a tilt at Steffi Graf, who marked up her 80th win in 16 years of competing at Roland Garros by moving shakily past Asa Carlsson, whose 6-1 6-4 defeat in one hour 23 minutes removed the last Swede, man and woman, from the tournament. Graf was in edgy mood, upset first by loose tape on her racket handle and then by the clicking of cameras. She also appeared irritated by a forehand, committing 33 unforced errors and being required to labour harder than was called for in beating an opponent ranked 92nd. Graf, five times the champion at Roland Garros, has won more matches at this event than any other woman and she hopes to extend that total against Kournikova, who won their last meeting, on grass at Eastbourne 11 months back. "Fitness-wise I feel pretty good," said Steffi, which certainly makes a change for the oft-injured German.

Monica Seles, three times a winner at Roland Garros, seemed a mite bewildered by confronting another double-handed player, Maria Antonia Sanchez Lorenzo, a Salamanca-born, Barcelona-based Spaniard whose name is considerably longer than her credentials. That the 52nd ranked Sanchez was able to stretch the match to 6-1 6-4 was due to Seles's inability to find her rhythm.

Lindsay Davenport, the second seed and reigning US Open champion, again struggled as she put away Fabiola Zuluaga, a 20-year-old from Colombia making her debut at the French Open. Zuluaga led 5-2 and missed three set points before Davenport won 7-6 6-3.

Gustavo Kuerten, the eighth seed but sentimental favourite to take the men's crown, was in brisk form as he put away Sjeng Schalken of Holland 6-2 6-4 6-3, while Felix Mantilla showed what it is that Spaniards like about this place as he revelled in a 7-6 6-1 6-4 victory over Germany's Tommy Haas.

But Australian Pat Rafter, exhausted by the heat and the consistency of Brazilian Fernando Meligeni, lost 6-4 6-2 3-6 6-3 - a big disappointment for the Parisian crowd, who have been hoping for 16 years to see a serve- and-volley player win.

The one non-clay-court specialist left among the seeds, Greg Rusedski, will today become the first British man since Buster Mottram in 1977 to contest a fourth-round match. He faces Marcelo Filippini, a 31-year- old Uruguayan who is a motorcycle freak and, because of his low ranking of 140, had to battle through the qualifying rounds.

Rusedski paid tribute to his fitness trainer, the Japanese-American Ken Matsuda, who brought Michael Chang to the perfect pitch of physical readiness to win this title in 1989. This plus the presence of his Dutch coach, Sven Groeneveld, have combined to propel Rusedski to his best-ever showing here. Another good performance will take Team Rusedski into the quarter- finals and a clash with either the defending champion, Carlos Moya, or Andre Agassi. Heady stuff.