Tennis: Novotna tumbles to resurgent Graf

AFTER TWO years in which her medical records have been more extensive than her tennis record, Steffi Graf is healthy and having fun again.

"I've been having a great time. It's great to be back," beamed the German former world No 1 after beating the third seed and defending champion Jana Novotna, 6-7, 6-4, 61 in the first round of the Chase Championships on Tuesday night.

"I am still surprised that I keep on being on that kind of roll and beating the players that I am beating right now," said Graf, after an 11th successive victory that meant she has beat the top three players in the world in five days.

"It has been a few years since I felt like that, that I would be able to keep up with everybody," she said.

Graf began the year still recovering from the knee surgery that kept her out of competition for some eight months and her first comeback was stalled in her second tournament by a strained left hamstring.

After being forced to miss tournaments in May because of an ankle injury, another comeback stalled in September with surgery to remove a bone spur in her hand.

The sixth seed, Mary Pierce, joined Graf in the quarter-finals yesterday, beating the South African Amanda Coetzer, 6-1, 6-0. Pierce, who will face Martina Hingis in the next round, was overpowering in every aspect of her game.

Coetzer, at 5ft 2in one of the smallest players on the Tour, relies on quickness, speed and grit to overcome her lack of height. None of those qualities worked against Pierce, who unloaded huge groundstrokes and hit winners all over the court. Pierce won the opening four games for the loss of only nine points. Coetzer rallied from a 15-40 deficit to break Pierce, the only game she won.

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