Tennis: Pierce the creatine convert

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THE SHAPE of women's tennis is the big issue at the French Open as the sturdy Amelie Mauresmo, the new home heroine, prepares to do battle today with Martina Hingis, the world No 1, in the second round of the singles. Mary Pierce, the French No 1, weighed in to the debate yesterday, talking frankly about using creatine to supplement her training regimen.

On an afternoon when Pete Sampras, one of the greats of the men's game, laboured through an epic first-round contest against Juan Antonio Marin, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4 , after four hours and 18 minutes, physical fitness was on everybody's mind.

Pierce, asked how she reacted to all the talk about her muscular physique, said: "I take that as a compliment, because we are athletes. Look at the track and field athletes, and the gymnasts. They all have great bodies. It's just something that's coming into tennis that wasn't there before. All they did before was really just play tennis."

The WTA emphasises that creatine is not a banned substance under its anti-doping programme, adding that "a certain amount of confusion regarding creatine has been created by athletes in other sports who have combined creatine with a substance that is banned under the Tour's anti-doping programme, but not in certain other sports."

Creatine has been used by the England football team and Arsenal. "I'm not a science person," Pierce said, "but the thing about creatine is it really helps recovery. It helps when you lift weights, run hard, and it helps to rebuild the muscle tissues and the fibres you tear a little bit. It just gives you a little bit of extra energy that you feel like maybe you don't have, so you can push yourself a little more."

Pierce did not have to push herself too much to overcome South Africa's Joannette Kruger in the first round, 6-4, 6-3. Nor did two of the former champions, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles. Graf defeated Magdalena Maleeva, of Bulgaria, 6-2, 6-0, and Seles beat Fang Li, of China, 6-2, 6-4.

"I think it's positive that players are in better shape," Graf said. "They're working out; obviously gaining strength with that. The only concern probably is how early you start doing it. That's maybe the only thing I would point out. Even if you see some of the juniors now the way they're built, you can see they're playing hours and hours a day. Their bodies will not last as long anymore as they used to."

Seles said: "You can acquire power; it just depends if you want to acquire power or not. If you look at track and field, power and speed are the most important. Steffi is one of the best athletes ever, and that's why I think she will be able to play for a few more years, if she wants to, at the highest level of tennis.

"But I think tennis in general is changing. It changed from [Martina] Navratilova, who really brought the strength into tennis. Then Steffi brought it to another level. Then I started hitting the ball hard. Then all the youngsters grew up watching us, so they knew they had to hit the ball harder to be a top player. The youngsters who are watching players on the entire Tour now are going to hit it even harder and be even stronger physically."

Sam Smith, Britain's lone representative amid the flexing of female muscles at Stade Roland Garros, was unable to stretch into the second round, losing yesterday to Germany's Elena Wagner, 6-1, 7-6. Wagner, though no valkyrie, was able to sweep Smith aside in the opening set and managed to hold her nerve better during a second set in which there were six breaks of serve en route to the tie-break. Wagner edged the shoot-out, 8-6, on her third match point.

Smith took an injury time-out after straining her right knee during the first point of the concluding game of the opening set. "My foot went, and my knee didn't follow," Smith said. "It's all right, though." Looking ahead, she said: "On grass, it's a lot more black and white - just come forward." Smith will but the simple strategy into practise during her Wimbledon preparation at tournaments in Surbiton, Birmingham and Eastbourne.

Patty Schnyder, the 20-year-old Swiss whose career has been played in the shadow of Martina Hingis, has ended her relationship, on and off the court, with the German "faith healer" Rainer Harnecker.

"I have not spoken to him for three months, since I told him I wanted to make new arrangements," Schnyder confirmed yesterday, after struggling through her opening match, defeating the American Corina Morariu, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6.

Harnecker, 42, is wanted for questioning by the German authorities in connection with his methods of treatment.