Tennis: Sabatini loses her will to win: McNeil upsets Argentinian's Wimbledon preparations

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The Independent Online
GABRIELA SABATINI was eliminated in the third round of the Volkswagen Cup by Lori McNeil, the defending champion, at a windswept Devonshire Park yesterday but still considers her Wimbledon prospects to be good. This is more than can be said for Jim Pierce, who has not only been banned from watching his 18- year-old daughter, Mary, make her debut at the All England Club next week, but is barred from all tournaments on the Kraft Tour for the remainder of the year.

Wimbledon accepted the Women's Tennis Council's decision to extend the suspension imposed on Pierce after the American's disruptive behaviour at the French Open three weeks ago. His accreditation was withdrawn when security guards removed him from Court 11, where his daughter was playing the American Kimberly Po.

Mary Pierce, seeded 13 for Wimbledon, is no longer coached by her father, having replaced him with the former French Davis Cup player, Pierre Barthes. Born in Canada, she has taken the nationality of her mother, Yannick, who is French. She has a brother, David, 16.

Sabatini, the fourth seed at Wimbledon and No 2 to Martina Navratilova at Eastbourne, became the latest player to be out-manoeuvred by McNeil's grass-court technique. The 29-year-old from Houston won

7-6, 6-1, continuing to show the impressive form that brought her the DFS Classic title at Edgbaston last week. Ranked No 19 in the world, she is unseeded for Wimbledon.

'She is one of the best players on grass,' Sabatini said. 'Even if she is not seeded she will still be a tough player to beat. She puts a lot of pressure on you by coming to the net a lot of times.'

Sabatini, who has not won a tournament since last year's Italian Open, found that her returns were as ineffectual as her serve and admitted that 'in the second set I didn't try so much'. The statement required clarification. 'I thought it was very important to win the first set. I lost my concentration a little bit and she played better in the second set. Mentally I didn't think I was very tough.'

For the second time this week Navratilova had a busy day, playing two matches in order to make up for Wednesday's wash-out. She defeated Patricia Hy, of Canada, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, and followed this with a 6-1, 6-3 win against a fellow American, Gigi Fernandez.

Against Hy, the 36-year old Navratilova looked anything but a nine-times Wimbledon champion. Her serve was broken eight times, one fewer than Hy's, and there were nine breaks in the last 10 games. The ease with which the Canadian was able to pass Navratilova was alarming, though the conditions were not conducive to serving. 'It's a good day to fly a kite,' Navratilova said, though she ackowledged that the wind was tricky for all the competitors: 'It blows on both sides of the court.'

Zina Garrison-Jackson, who lost to Navratilova in the 1990 Wimbledon final, had to retire after the opening game of the third set against Nathalie Tauziat, of France, the fifth seed. A stomach muscle injury hampered Garrison-Jackson, who won the first set 7-5 and lost the second 6-2. 'I've had the problem before, and I'm not too worried about it,' she said.

Jo Durie also remained optimistic about her chances of playing at Wimbledon, though a stiffening of the left knee which was operated on a month ago caused to withdraw from her second-round match against Kimiko Date.

'Yesterday I came and practised half an hour before it started raining and I didn't feel too bad,' Durie said. 'Then I sat around waiting, and I think that caused the stiffness. I'm going to ask for a Tuesday start at Wimbledon and hope they look favourably on my request.'

(Photograph omitted)

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