Huber overcomes Halard-Decugis

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The Independent Online

Anke Huber, in the midst of resurrecting her career, defeated eighth-seeded Julie Halard-Decugis 6-1, 6-2 today in an opening round match at the Chase Championships.

Anke Huber, in the midst of resurrecting her career, defeated eighth-seeded Julie Halard-Decugis 6-1, 6-2 today in an opening round match at the Chase Championships.

The defeat made Halard-Decugis the first seeded player ousted from the year-ending tournament.

It was a battle of close friends: Huber was maid of honor at Halard-Decugis' wedding. That made no difference when they faced each other on the court.

Huber only needed 44 minutes to grab a quarter-final berth where she next will face the winner of tonight's match between second-seeded Lindsay Davenport and Amelie Mauresmo of France.

The first round will be completed Wednesday night when No 3 Venus Williams takes on Spain's Conchita Martinez.

Halard-Decugis never was in her match against Huber. Using her powerful ground strokes, especially off the forehand side, the German kept her opponent behind the baseline racing side to side. Time and again, Halard-Decugis just watched as another Huber winner went streaking past on the far sideline.

Huber won twice as many points - 54 to 27 - and had 24 winners to just seven for the French woman.

"I played very well right from the beginning," Huber said. "I didn't let her come into the game. I think she wasn't ready for it, really."

On Tuesday night, the past, present and future of women's tennis had a shot at the spotlight at the Chase Championships. The future stumbled.

Steffi Graf, ranked No 1 in the world a record 377 weeks, was honored by her peers and fans.

Martina Hingis, the current No 1, survived a strong test provided by Sandrine Testud and won her first-round match at the season-ending tournament.

Serena Williams, a strong contender to take Hingis' place atop the rankings, pulled out of the championships when she strained her back Tuesday morning.

"I was practicing," Williams said. "I was almost done (when) all of the sudden I had a little pain in my back."

Dr Ken Montgomery, the tournament physician, examined Williams, who said even breathing was difficult, and prescribed inflammatory medication. She returned to her home in Florida, where she will be treated by her own doctor.

For Graf, it was a love affair between her, the audience and her peers.

"You have been an inspiration to all of us, young and old alike," said Judy Levering, president of the US Tennis Association told Graf during the on-court ceremony honoring the superstar who retired this past summer.

The top-seeded Hingis narrowly won her first-round match, edging a tenacious Testud 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5) to move into a quarterfinal against another French woman, fifth-seeded Mary Pierce.

Dominique Van Roost of Belgium took advantage of Williams' injury, easily beating Serena's replacement, Russia's Elena Likhovtseva, 6-2, 6-3. The victory puts Van Roost in the qu ousted South African Amanda Coetzer 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) in the day's first match.

Five times, Graf emerged the winner of this season-ending tournament, so it was only appropriate Tuesday's tribute was held at Madison Square Garden.

The ceremonies included a video of her career and the hoisting of a blue banner bearing her name to the top of the Garden alongside that of Martina Navratilova. Theirs are the only two banners not associated with the tenants of the Garden, basketball's Knicks and hockey's Rangers.

The German right-hander nicknamed "Fraulein Forehand" proved on the court to be one of the best players in history. During her 17-year career, she won 107 titles, including 22 Grand Slam tournament singles championships. In 1988, she won the "Golden Slam" - Wimbledon and the Australian, French and US Opens, plus the gold medal at the Seoul Olympics.

Singles First Round

Anke Huber, Germany, beat Julie Halard-Decugis (8), France, 6-1, 6-2

Doubles First Round

Lisa Raymond, United States, and Rennae Stubbs, Australia, beat Elena Likhovtseva, Russia, and Ai Sugiyama, Japan, 6-3, 6-3.