Tennis: Sabatini is surprised by Fernandez

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The Independent Online
Gabriela Sabatini became the third leading contender to be eliminated from the women's singles at the United States Open here yesterday, denied a place in the semi-finals by Mary Joe Fernandez. The 1990 champion, seeded four, was defeated, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4.

Sabatini joined Martina Navratilova and Jennifer Capriati as an also-ran, her strong recovery in the second set failing to curb Fernandez's confidence. It was only the second time the American had defeated Sabatini in their last eight matches.

Showing the form that took her to the final of the Australian Open in January, the seventh seed will now renew her acquaintance with Monica Seles, the world No 1. Seles ended the challenge of the Cambodian-born Patricia Hy, winning their quarter-final, 6-1, 6-2.

On the way to winning the men's title a year ago, Stefan Edberg came to life against Michael Chang in the fourth round. At the same stage this time, it was a case of survival. The Swede retrieved a 1-3 deficit in the fifth set to discourage Richard Krajicek, the tall, 20-year- old Dutchman who had defeated him in their two previous matches, in New Haven and Tokyo, arenas lacking the intensity of a Grand Slam tournament.

It will be a long time before Krajicek forgets the lobbed service return he allowed to drop over his head to be broken for 3-3 in the final set. 'It hurt a little bit in my heart and in my stomach,' he said. 'It was not a nice feeling, because I had completely misread it. It was not like five inches or maybe even 10 inches in. And the point before was a volley on top of the net I had to put in, and I put it long. Two lousy points]'

Edberg's performance over the four hours and 18 minutes was punctuated with double-faults and uncharacteristic volleying errors against an eager, big-serving opponent. Otherwise the scoreline, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, would have been briefer.

He failed to convert two set points at 6-4 in the second-set tie- break, which he lost, 8-6, and was unable to take advantage of five break points in the opening game of the fourth set. Having pulled his game round, he still had to save two break points at 4-4 in the fifth set before holding and cracking the Dutchman's serve to advance to the quarter-finals.

'It is sort of good to push yourself, physically and mentally,' Edberg said. 'Sometimes you need one of those matches. Having chances, almost having the match, losing it, getting it back.'

Emilio Sanchez did not need this type of match. The unseeded Spaniard had treatment to his injured racket hand before play

ing against Wayne Ferreira. The South African, seeded 12, won,

6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

Now that Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe have gone, at least for the moment, a lonely nation turns its eyes to the new breed, lamenting that Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras are locked in the same quarter of the draw. The compensation is that the growing rivalry between Courier and Agassi is about to be extended to America's major arena.

'I certainly think there is a big enough contrast between us to arouse a lot of interest,' Agassi said, having advanced to the last eight without dropping a set after seeing Courier dismiss McEnroe with an ease similar to his own defeat of the 33-year-old New Yorker in the Wimbledon semi-finals.

'There won't be any mixed emotions,' Agassi added. 'When we've played on world-wide television there's a good chance everybody watching knew who they wanted to win,' Agassi said.

Courier, the world No 1, leads the Wimbledon champion 5-4 in the head-to-head, their meetings in Grand Slam tournaments having been confined to the clay of the French Open. Courier won in four sets in the third round at Roland Garros in 1989, Agassi responded in four sets in the fourth round the following year. And then Courier reached for the trophy. After out-staying Agassi in five sets in last year's final, he demoralised the Las Vegan in the semi-finals in June. Agassi rued billing the contest as the natural talent versus the worker.

Agassi, whose fourth-round victim was the 10th-seeded Carlos Costa, of Spain, realises that his smooth progress so far has been something of a prelude: 'If I am giving it my best, I am confident enough to say that he (Courier) has a hell of a match on his hands, and I think he knows if he is playing his best, I have got a hell of a match on my hands.'

It should be interesting, particularly as Agassi has expressed a determination not to clutter his mind. When Barbra Streisand, a fan, compared him to a Zen master, he said: 'I am going to have to talk to her about that one.'

Sampras, the third seed, ought to be battle-hardened after slogging through consecutive five-set matches, the marathon with his compatriot, Todd Martin, being followed by a test of nerve and stamina against Guy Forget, of France. The American will play the unseeded Alexander Volkov, of Russia, who eliminated Edberg in the first round two years ago.

(Photograph omitted)

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