Tennis: Place in last four for Graf

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The Independent Online
THE WOMEN'S singles at the Lipton Championships here, which has generated more general interest than the men's event because of the variety of style and personality on view, suffered its first setback yesterday when Lindsay Davenport, the American world No 2 withdrew from her quarter- final against Steffi Graf because of a sprained left wrist she has nursed since damaging the joint while practising five days earlier.

Graf was relishing the contest, having displayed fine form here, where she is unbeaten in 20 matches. In the semi-finals she will play either Venus Williams, the defending champion, or renew her rivalry with Jana Novotna.

Otherwise the women's tournament continues to bubble along nicely. It was probably no more than the proximity to Miami, where people have been made offers they could not refuse, that caused eyebrows to be raised when Serena Williams used the phrase: "We have a lot of business to deal with out there" in relation to her match today against Martina Hingis in the semi-finals.

Nothing sinister was intended, however. Asked what kind of business she meant, Williams shrugged and said: "I have to go out and play. I have a job next time I play."

Serena Williams, 17, the younger of the powerful American tennis sisters, is in splendid form, having won consecutive WTA Tour titles, indoors at the Paris Open and outdoors at the Evert Cup, in Indian Wells, California. On Wednesday night at the Lipton she won her 15th match in a row, defeating the South African, Amanda Coetzer, 6-4, 6-0.

Hingis, 18, the world No 1, won the fifth Grand Slam title of her career at the Australian Open in January and has only conceded 11 games in her four matches here, requiring only 43 minutes to dispatch Austria's Barbara Schett in the quarter-finals, 6-1, 6-1. The Swiss won her two previous matches against Williams last year, although Williams held two match points in their quarter-final at the Lipton, Hingis going on to lose to Venus Williams in the semi-finals.

"I had two match points last year?" Serena asked, affecting surprise when the subject was raised. "It must really not be on my mind." She might have been more concerned with the way Coetzer attacked her serve in the opening set on Wednesday. "I didn't play so well in the first set at all," Williams said. "I guess I was a little tired in the beginning, but I was able to come through."

She will need to be firing from the start against Hingis, who is unlikely to be lulled by Williams' observation that: "I don't have anything to lose - she's No 1, I'm No 16." Williams added: "She didn't get to No 1 by just joking around. She was serious. I think I saw her mom here tonight, so I'm sure she was at my match watching me, trying to get the latest scouting report. I have hers, too."

Hingis admitted: "She's definitely a more experienced player now, with winning the last two tournaments. I think everybody has improved since last year. You can't compare it to last year. I had to work on myself, too, physically and technically. I think I have a much better forehand than last year. The players are better, but my level has improved over the others during the tournament so far against the players I've played against." A fascinating contest is in prospect.

n Players are likely to be given more opportunities to prepare on grass courts for Wimbledon. It is proposed to extend the gap between the French Open, played on clay courts in Paris, and the Wimbledon Championships from a fortnight to three weeks, starting next year or in 2001.

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