Tennis / Wimbledon '93: Sukova is restored to health

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The Independent Online
THEY WERE going down with illness on the show courts of Wimbledon yesterday as fast as Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova were clearing a path towards Saturday's final. A bug laid low two of the women's seeds and left them feeling sick even before the scoreboard sign-posted their defeats.

Prominent among the fevered failures was Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, third favourite in the draw, who beat a hasty retreat from the Centre Court after half an hour because of a stomach virus. She soon returned but could not restore her game to good health and went down 6-3, 6-4 to Helena Sukova, of the Czech Republic.

The girl from Barcelona departed the tournament in which she has never managed to get past the quarter-final stage with the observation that 'there are many more Wimbledons to come', but she knows that on this surface it would take a outbreak of plague proportions to give her a chance here.

Her game is as alien to grass as Wimbledon's Plough Lane is to Barcelona's Nou Camp. That is why the seeding committee promoted Navratilova ahead of her when her ranking suggested she should have been No 2.

Yesterday Sanchez Vicario had the added misfortune to be cast on the opposite side of the net to a genuine serve-and-volley exponent and one whose height makes her doubly difficult to pass at the net.

Sukova, 28, was almost becoming a tennis star in the past tense. Her good years - and between 1984 and 1991 she never failed to reach the fourth round or the quarter-finals at Wimbledon - appeared to be behind her, a feeling strengthened when she was forced to miss two months of the tour after she kicked a stone while jogging and broke a bone in her foot.

Next up for her is another Spaniard, Conchita Martinez, the No 6 seed who has only played Wimbledon once before and even that is open to doubt, as she only got through one round. She beat Yayuk Basuki in three sets and like her compatriot is not at home on grass.

Anke Huber was another to take her ailments on to court and what promised to be a close encounter with Gabriela Sabatini became, in the end, a game without pain as the Argentinian, seeded four, won 7-6, 6-0.

'I was perhaps 60, 70 per cent, no more' the German girl, who was seeded nine, said. 'I have a cough and a fever and it was very difficult for me. I thought about pulling out before the start, but I wanted to see how it went. By the middle of the second set, I knew I was going to lose because there was no way I could have played three.'

First-week sightings of Graf were in the 'be quick or you'll miss her' category. She strung together three wins in a total playing time of 2hr 19min and conceded only three games.

At last there was something resembling a work-out yesterday as Meredith McGrath took four games off her in the second set. Jennifer Capriati in the quarter finals - the third successive time they have met at the same stage in Grand Slam competition - promises another not- so-easy day for the defending champion, if only because, having gone the full distance in each round so far, the 16-year-old American is match sharp. 'I've been happy with my form so far and that's the most important thing to me,' the German said. 'Now for sure I will have difficult opponents, so I have to be aware of that and concentrate on every match now.'

Capriati's only win in their eight meetings came in last summer's Olympic final in Barcelona. 'The gold medal means a lot to me and when I'm down I think about it and it helps me pull through,' she said.

The teenager's match with Lisa Raymond was the pick of the women's fourth round, the seventh seed vulnerable to a girl who was her juniors' doubles partner and who was close enough to sniff a sensation in what was only her seventh match as a professional.

Navratilova outlasted Graf by just one minute but needed one game fewer in her stint of exactly an hour to edge nearer her 10th Wimbledon singles title. Any bugs on court will have to be mighty sharp to snare the two woman favourites. Little Martina in the delightful 12- year-old shape of Miss Hingis of Switzerland, who in France in June became the youngest winner of a Grand Slam junior title, progressed to the second round of the girls' event at a canter.

Monica Seles still does not know when she will be returning to the game, her agents, IMG, said yesterday in response to speculation that she may not play again this year. Seles was stabbed during the Hamburg Open in May and is receiving psychological help.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WOMEN'S SINGLES QUARTER-FINAL LINE-UP ----------------------------------------------------------------- S GRAF (Ger) v J CAPRIATI (US) H SUKOVA (Cz Rep) v C MARTINEZ (Sp) J NOVOTNA (Cz Rep) v G SABATINI (Arg) N Zvereva (Bela) v M NAVRATILOVA (US) -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)