Pierce and Sanchez-Vicario advance to final

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The Independent Online

Top-seeded Mary Pierce of France added to her impressive run in the Family Circle Cup at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, by beating the third seeded Monica Seles 6-1, 6-1 today.

Pierce, who has not dropped a set and lost only 11 games all week, will face former champion Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario of Spain in Sunday's title match. Sanchez-Vicario, the fourth seed, won her seventh straight match over Spanish compatriot Conchita Martinez 7-5, 7-5.

But it's Pierce's play that has been stunning at Sea Pines Racquet Club, which hosts its final Family Circle match on Sunday.

"That's the best I've seen her serve," said Seles, who watched serves between 177-183 kph (110-114 mph) whiz by in the final game.

"I feel good right now, very at peace with what I do," Pierce said.

Seles, the overwhelming crowd favourite on Stadium Court, was overwhelmed by Pierce from the start.

"I came out a little flat and Mary never gave me a chance for an opening," said Seles, the winner of the season's opening clay-court tournament at Amelia Island, Florida, a week ago.

Pierce led 4-0 within 10 minutes. She reeled off eight of the last nine games and won her final two service games, losing only one point.

Seles, normally resolute and powerful on clay, could not find her game. She double faulted five times and made 14 errors to Pierce's two.

Pierce, who had six aces, closed out the match with her 114 mph shot down the centre line.

"When my serve is going well, the rest of my game seems to come along, so that's been very important for me," she said.

Pierce, known in the past for her petulance and aloof attitude, has shown a centered, content side.

She is almost always seen smiling on the grounds and spent about 30 minutes signing everything from programmes to a teen's stomach following her semi-final win.

"I used to get upset at myself and put out a lot of emotion," Pierce said. "But that's a lot of wasted energy. I just wake up every day and I'm excited about it. I'm just me."

Seles, in her sixth straight tournament, plans to take off the next few weeks before going to Europe and preparing for the French Open.

"You try and learn something from every match," said Seles, a 6-0, 6-0 loser to Martina Hingis at the Ericsson Open semis last month. "I've got to figure out why I come out flat in these semi-finals."

Sanchez-Vicario survived a match of weird swings to advance.

Martinez, seeded second, led 4-2 and 5-4 in the opening set. But Sanchez-Vicario saved three set points, then won the next eight games to lead 5-0 in the second. That's when Martinez rediscovered the strokes that won her consecutive Family Circle titles in 1994-95 and tied the set.

"I said, 'OK, Arantxa, hit through the ball like you were doing. Don't make those mistakes,' " Sanchez-Vicario said.

Sanchez-Vicario finished a dazzling overhead putaway to lead 6-5, then watched as Martinez sailed three backhands wide in the final game.

"It's always the same thing against her," said Martinez, who has mostly played in the shadow of her good friend and Federation Cup teammate. "I have a chance to win a set, then somehow I lose. I'm sick of it."

Martinez was upset when she lost her three set points at 5-4 in the first - two on wide shots and one when she hit a seemingly simple forehand into the net.

Results from the $1.1 million WTA Family Circle Cup:

Singles Semi-finals

(4) Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (Sp) def. (2) Conchita Martinez (Sp) 7-5, 7-5.

(1) Mary Pierce , France, def. (3) Monica Seles (US) 6-1, 6-1.


Doubles Semi-finals

Conchita Martinez (Sp) and Patricia Tarabini (Arg) def. Amanda Coetzer (SA) and Lori McNeil (US) 6-4, 6-4.