Tennis: Sukova and Fernandez sing praises of Hingis

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Helena Sukova, who partnered Martina Hingis when the Swiss prodigy became the youngest ever Wimbledon champion (15 years, 282 days), said yesterday she has never seen another player who can place shots better from anywhere on the court, "not even Martina Navratilova".

The Czech spoke from experience. At 32 (the combined ages of Hingis and Venus Williams), she has competed against the best since joining the professional tour 14 years ago.

Although failing to win a major singles title in four finals, she was responsible for ending Navratilova's record 74-match winning streak, at the same time denying the great one a tradition calendar-year Grand Slam Slam at the 1984 Australian Open.

In common with the Slovakian-born Hingis, who on Monday will become the youngest ever world No 1 (16 years, six months and one day), Sukova is the daughter of a tennis player. Her late mother mother, Vera Sukova, was a Wimbledon singles finalist in 1962. Melanie Molitor, Hingis's mother and coach, while not aspiring to such heights, was respected back home for her scurrying baseline retrieving.

Sukova would like to have continued playing doubles with Hingis, but the pair are now barely on speaking terms after dissolving their partnership at the end of last year. Sukova had heard that Hingis was planning to cut down on doubles play to keep herself fresh for the singles, besides which Melanie was not entirely convinced that Sukova still had the game and stamina to complement her daughter's play.

Hingis has played doubles at the Lipton Championships here with the American Mary Joe Fernandez, another experienced campaigner, whose steady game was picked apart by the youngster in the singles quarter-finals.

"I knew after the first point I was in trouble," said Fernandez, who was defeated, 6-4, 6-1. "She always knows where the ball is going. She knows how to read the point. The thing that she does so well is she hits the ball early. I've seen her play against the hard hitters and use their power. She hits early, opens up the court. The next thing you know, you're the one running around. She plays every point like it's a big point. She doesn't really give you an inch.

"I was talking to her the other day about her match against Venus [Williams. `How did you play?' `I played OK, I made her play bad'. She's thinking out there. She's not like a robot hitting to the corners. Mentally, she's very strong. All the No 1's have that mental edge. she has it at a very young age.

"I think Steffi [Graf] at her best and Martina at her best is a great match. Martina has the legs to run down Steffi's big forehands. she's able to come in and put Steffi on defence. Steffi has the big serve, you know, and can maybe out-hit her for a while on her forehand side. It's a great match-up. I can't say one's better than the other."

"I can't remember the last time I saw someone so young play so well in doubles. I've been playing doubles with her for the first time this week, and she's very smart at finding out the other person's weaknesses, taking advantage of her strengths.

"She knows she doesn't have a huge serve and she doesn't have maybe the power that a Seles or Davenport has, but she's very smart and uses what she has to the best that I've seen.

"She's also a lot of fun. She has a good sense of humour. Like, when we played our first round, I said: `Where should we start?' Martina said: `Serve to that girl's forehand, her forehand is worse than mine'. I'm like: `Oh, yeah, you have a bad forehand!'"

In a men's quarter-final, former French Open champion Sergi Bruguera of Spain blew away Andrei Medvedev of Ukraine 6-0, 6-3 in a brief 53- minutes. Bruguera led 6-0, 5-0 before Medvedev strung together three games.

It is highly unlikely Bruguera will have a chance for any premature celebrating when he plays his fourth semi-final of the year. The Spaniard next faces Pete Sampras, the world No 1.