Tennis: Wimbledon 99 - Kournikova's not so beautiful display

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ANNA KOURNIKOVA missed the point. "I just want to concentrate on my tennis," she said, which is the last thing everyone else in the interview theatre was interested in. Who wants to talk backhands with a girl whose record would merit scant attention if she was less endowed in the looks department?

"Is there any truth in the story linking you romantically with Ronaldo?" was her starter for 10 with the follow-ups concentrating on her boyfriend, or lack of one. The 18-year-old Russian patted them back with an assured "no comment".

Which was a far more commanding performance than she had shown on court because Nathalie Tauziat's assertion that Kournikova is a show pony with no serve and no volley looked to be overestimating the photographers' favourite player at times during her match with Austria's Barbara Schwartz. For the sake of picture editors everywhere it was as well she recovered to win 7-6, 4-6, 6-2. "It was very hard to catch a rhythm," Kournikova said. "You never knew what to expect, a good serve, a bad serve. But she's a good player and it was tough."

Would she have liked to have made more volleys? "Yes, but it was difficult to go to the net from her kind of very low shots. I'd have had to bring the ball up and she would have had easy passing shots. I did just what I had to do to win."

In the first set the 17th-seeded Kournikova, whose serve can look like a friendly start to a gentle knock-up, began slowly, was 3-1 down after she was broken to love in the fourth game, and was relieved to take the tie-break 7-2.

Schwartz took the next set but lost her edge in the decider and Kournikova, who missed last year's championship with a thumb injury, was able to assert her authority. She gained and missed four break points in the fourth game only to make amends in the sixth and eighth.

"I'm happy I'm through the first round," Kournikova said. "You practise, you wait for the tournament to start and it's good to have played already and get it over with. I served seven aces so I'm in pretty good shape."

So is Steffi Graf. Considering she won the French Open when she was using it to warm up for Wimbledon, you could say she will not lack motivation at the All England Club this fortnight. She desperately wants a seventh title and, if the evidence of yesterday is anything to go by, she will take some stopping.

Ludmila Cervanova was her opponent but in reality she was just a minor irritation in Graf's regal path, being swept aside 6-1, 6-4. If the German had kept her concentration the match would have been even quicker than the 42 minutes it required.

"I have never seen her before, I knew nothing about her and I didn't know what to expect," Graf said, "but it didn't take too long. Here and there I didn't finish off points quickly enough but I felt OK."

After trading the first two games Graf rattled off the next five, dropping only eight points along the way. Cervanova rallied briefly to get to 3- 3 in the second but, once she was broken in the seventh game, it was just a matter of time.

Tauziat, the eighth seed, defeated Britain's Lucie Ahl 6-3, 6-2 in 55 minutes while her fellow French seed, Sandrine Testud, also had a relatively easy match against a home player, beating Julie Pullin 6-1, 6-3 in two minutes over the hour.

Amanda Coetzer, seeded 12, lost the longest match this year on the WTA Tour last Friday when her Eastbourne semi-final with Natasha Zvereva stretched to 3 hours 28 minutes so yesterday's 77-minute match with Nicole Pratt will have been welcome. So will the 6-2, 7-5 result.