Tennis: Stevenson hits jackpot

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ALEXANDRA Stevenson's bank manager is in for a shock next week. The 18-year-old American has not earned a penny from tennis for the very good reason that she was an amateur before Wimbledon started, but the very least she will take home to San Diego will be pounds 96,690.

That is what she will earn after becoming the first qualifier to reach the women's semi-finals yesterday, defeating Jelena Dokic 6-3, 1-6, 6- 3. The issue of equal pay is not troubling her because, she is currently coining it in at the rate of more than pounds 13,000 an hour, with more to come if she can better Lindsay Davenport today.

Little wonder then that she could barely contain her delight, curtseying extravagantly to all four sides of Court One, her smile as wide as the net. If you have not seen that the chances are you will, because the BBC is not likely to let an image like that pass by lightly.

She is the story of the women, and one that became better yesterday the more you probed into the history of yesterday's match. Quite apart from the farce of Thursday night when it was transferred to an empty Court One just in time for the heavens to really let rip, Stevenson versus Dokic was a grudge contest at parental level.

Damir Dokic, Jelena's hirsute father, might be regarded a pre-greying Father Christmas figure had it not been for a report of his antics at the DFS Classic at Edgbaston three weeks ago where he was ejected from the grounds for disruptive behaviour and then allegedly lay in the road shouting anti-British vitriol.

Just one journalist saw all this and guess who that was? Yes, Samantha Stevenson, Alexandra's mum, whose report in the New York Times alerted the British press and led in turn to domestic headlines, "The Dad from Hell" being one of the more juicy. Not surprisingly Mr Dokic declined to shake hands with the opposition in the players' guest box afterwards.

Jelena Dokic did observe the pleasantries, which spoke volumes for the power in her arms because the pummelling they had taken from the weight of Stevenson's ground strokes, particularly on the forehand, would have had an effect on a more powerful figure than the 16-year-old Australian. She did well to lift her hands above the net.

Beginning at a set down but 5-1 up, Dokic quickly wrapped up the second set with three powerful serves that would send a wholly misleading message as it was this department that crucially would let her down.

"Come on," she cried, excited to draw level but put pressure on her next service game with two double faults that would ultimately lead to a break. Yesterday her strength was drawn by six similar lapses, out of 14 in total.

Dokic broke back immediately but whereas Stevenson was lashing her serves down at speeds up to 113mph, the Australian qualifier was fighting her own inaccuracy and had to slow down to an average of 96mph.

There was the same disparity in the ground strokes. Dokic tended to win the points when she could move her opponent around the court and concentrate on Stevenson's backhand. Once the forehand became operational, however, the outcome was usually brutal.

From 2-2 Dokic won only one more game and that was the penultimate one as Stevenson preserved her energy for the final kill. It came, appropriately, with a crashing serve. "I have always hit the ball hard," Stevenson said. "I just go for it. The only difference is that over the years I've got more control."

If Stevenson is an unlikely name in the semi-finals, then so is Mirjana Lucic, who arrived at Wimbledon as a 17-year-old Croatian with a world ranking of 134 and today will stand in the way of Steffi Graf and an eighth title.

Lucic got to the last four with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 win over last year's runner-up, Nathalie Tauziat, and now meets the woman who has been a role model. "Steffi was always my favourite player, but she won't be my hero tomorrow," she said. "I can't wait to get on court."

Her match, like the Dokic-Stevenson one, was adversely affected by the weather, starting and stopping five times, but whereas Stevenson was happy to move from Court Two to Court One - "I was very excited when I got on my first show court" - Lucic refused to budge from Court 18.

"I didn't want to change because that was where we'd started," she said. "Maybe I didn't help the tournament very much but it was raining anyway. It was tough because I warmed up 10 times and it was very hard to concentrate."

A set behind overnight, Lucic took the second when she broke to 15 in the 10th game, causing Tauziat to whack the back canvas of the court with frustration.

Nevertheless, the French eighth seed appeared to be in control when she was 5-3 ahead in the decider, but collapsed spectacularly, losing four games in succession while winning only five points.

"I was really seeing the ball at that point," Lucic said. She will need the same powers of observation today.