Tennis: Wood is foiled by Pierce: John Roberts reports from Brighton

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The Independent Online
IT WAS not a case of the wheels coming off or of running out of gas, Clare Wood insisted after losing to Mary Pierce, 2-6, 6-1, 6-1, in the quarter-finals of the Autoglass Classic here in her home town yesterday. 'She went up a gear,' Wood said. This was hardly surprising considering that the third seed was given a Porsche last Sunday after winning a tour event in Germany.

Along with the car, the 18-year-old Pierce drives volleys with greater power and accuracy than most other players in the women's game and is able to dominate matches from the baseline, given the slightest encouragement. It is to Wood's credit that the Canadian-born French world No 14 was forced to bring dimensions of finesse into play in order to run Wood off the road.

Wood lasted the pace well considering she had not left the arena until 1.20am after the previous day's play, which involved taking part in a doubles match after being on court for almost two hours in defeating the seventh seed, Leila Meskhi in the singles.

There was no sign of fatigue in the opening set yesterday, though Pierce continued to take an age to deliver her serves. Wood, brisk and businesslike from the back of the court, dropped only five points on her four service games.

Pierce, who had lost their only previous match in Palm Springs two years ago, realised that she would have to lure Wood away from the baseline to avoid defeat, and she proceeded to play the ball shorter at every opportunity. A drop shot on break point gave her the edge she needed in the fourth game of the second set, and Wood won only one more game in the match.

The deciding set was not quite the runaway for Pierce the score suggests. Broken in the opening game, the 25-year-old Wood broke back immediately, only to double-fault to present her opponent with another opportunity in the next game. Pierce took it, striking a backhand winner down the line.

At this point, Pierce took a trip to the bathroom, leaving Wood to try to fathom a way back. Pierce helped with a rare miss with a drive volley on game point, and a net cord nudged Wood to break point. Pierce responded with three emphatic shots, culminating in a service winner to take a 3-1 lead.

Two consecutive double-faults cost Wood the next game, by which time Pierce was virtually unassailable. She advanced to a meeting with the second seed, Anke Huber, of Germany, in today's semi-finals.

Wood intends to build on this week's gains. She was ranked No 220 when she began working with Nigel Sears 13 months ago, and will rise into the the mid-80s on Monday as a result of improved fitness and tactical awareness.