Pierce holds nerve to edge past Dokic

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The Independent Online

Jelena Dokic criticised the media's search for another Anna Kournikova at the United States Open, saying the other day, "I think people should stop looking for a babe and concentrate on the tennis." Dokic got her wish yesterday, but the tennis was not pretty.

The second-round contest between Dokic and Mary Pierce, both of whom have attracted plenty of lenses, exposed the technical and mental fragility of both players. Pierce, the former Australian Open and French Open champion, held together long enough to hit the winning point for a 6-2, 6-7, 7-6 victory.

Pierce dominated the opening two sets until it came to serving for the match at 5-4. She was unable to convert it, and Dokic went on to win a tie-break, 7-5, and led 5-1 in the final set. It was then her turn to capitulate, piling up the errors as Pierce recovered to 5-5 and forced a second tie-break. This time Pierce held her nerve to take the shoot-out, 7-5, on her second match point, Dokic missing a forehand.

In the men's singles, Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 champion, survived a stuttering first set to defeat Lee Hyung-Taik of South Korea, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 on his fourth match point. Hewitt, beaten in the first round when defending his Wimbledon title in June, looked hesitant and at times forlorn in the first set yesterday, and was broken three times. Having advanced to the third round he has an appetising draw.

James Blake, a cornerstone of the latest generation of American male players, was disappointed to lose in straight sets in the second round at Wimbledon to Sargis Sargsian, of Armenia. He does not intend to let it happen again when they meet here today on Blake's home turf.

Born in Yonkers, New York, the 23-year-old Blake said he was inspired by the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium in his recovery from 4-1 down in the opening set of his first round match against Mariano Zabaleta, of Argentina, on Wednesday night. Blake went on to win, 7-6, 6-3, 6-2, leaping, Sampras-style, to hit a slam-dunk smash, and improvising with a left-handed shot.

"This New York crowd makes such a big difference for me," Blake said. "I knew it was going to be a tough match, but I don't think a lot of people counted into the fact how much this crowd really means to me and how much I wanted to win for them. This is where I've played some of my best tennis throughout my career."

Every court at Flushing Meadows is special for Blake, but none more than the centrepiece. "Every time I play on Arthur Ashe Stadium, I think about him," Blake said. "I think about him probably more often than most of the other players, obviously because we have a lot of similarities.

"The fact that he's such a role model impresses me, not necessarily his tennis. There are a lot of great tennis players. There aren't many people who did what he did off the court. He used every bit of his fame and success to help others to make a difference. He inspired my dad to play tennis. Just the fact that he was so graceful and dignified when no one have blinked an eye if he had gone nuts at so many of the struggles he had to go through at the beginning - to break into an all-white sport, basically.

"It made my father want to be like him, want to be a tennis player... I might not even be here if it wasn't for him. I'm pretty thankful for that."

Paradorn Srichaphan, from Thailand, is showing improved form. The No 11 seed advanced to the third round yesterday, defeating Dominik Hrbaty, of Slovakia, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.