Sprem answers the hard questions

One of the biggest pitfalls in tennis is the let-down after the breakthrough triumph, but Karolina Sprem successfully avoided it yesterday in progressing to the last 16 of the women's singles.

The 19-year-old Croatian, who beat Venus Williams on Thursday in the most controversial match of the week, looked ripe for a fall when she took to Court Two against the experienced American Meg-hann Shaughnessy. But Sprem showed a maturity and resilience that augur well for her future in dismissing Shaughnessy 7-6, 7-6, making it four tie-breaks on the run.

"I'm a tie-break specialist, and it's OK," she grinned in a post-match press conference that also demanded a fair bit of maturity.

Neither of yesterday's shoot-outs had any of the controversy of the one which saw her beat the elder Williams. Then she profited from an umpiring error at 1-1 in the second set breaker which saw the score move to 2-2 after Williams won the third point. The umpire Ted Watts was subsequently removed from the rest of this Wimbledon, and various people have put their oar in to the subsequent debate, including Serena Williams and Andy Roddick.

But Sprem was having none of it. "I don't care, this is behind me," she replied to the first question about the controversy. "I'm not angry, that's for sure. I don't have reason to be angry. I don't have a problem with people saying things, but I don't want to talk about it any more." When asked whether she felt bad for the umpire who lost his job, she said: "Bad luck for him. We have so many people in the court and they need to know the score, not me. [In the heat of the moment] I was confused, I didn't know what was happening."

Such uncompromising views of the incident fit with her take on the entire victory over Williams. No, she wasn't surprised that she had won, but she knew she couldn't dwell on it. "Before I was going to sleep on Thursday," she said, "I was just saying: 'You need to forget this, it's a big win for you, but tomorrow is a new day, you need to rest and prepare for the next match'."

Such mental fortitude gave her the edge over Shaughnessy, whose form is beginning to improve after a lean start to the year. Sprem had considerable difficulty handling the American's serve and trailed for much of the first set. She won it on a 7-5 tie-break, but then couldn't get away from Shaughnessy in the second set until 6-5 when she served for the match, only to be broken. But Sprem was never behind in the tie-break, which she won 7-2.

Sprem today plays Maggie Maleeva, the Bulgarian veteran who dismissed Denisa Chladkova 7-5, 6-3 to reach the fourth round for only the third time in 12 visits to Wimbledon. With Venus Williams and Anastasia Myskina gone from the bottom half of the draw, Sprem is entitled to wonder whether she can go all the way to the final here.

In the top half of the draw Amélie Mauresmo still looks the biggest obstacle to Serena Williams winning a third consecutive title. The fourth-seeded French woman cruised to a 6-1, 6-4 win over Ludmila Cervanova, although her performance gave little indication about how she is likely to handle the latter stages of the tournament.

Mauresmo is enjoying watching the media frenzy focus on someone other than her. She smiled wryly when saying it was "interesting" to see just how much attention is foisted on Tim Henman by the British media, and clearly believes her chances are aided by so much less interest in her than she has to deal with at Roland Garros.

She also looks the most classical grass court player left in the women's draw, though whether she has the consistency, and the fitness, to damage Serena Williams, her likely semi-final opponent, remains to be seen. She is suffering from a thigh strain picked up in her semi-final defeat to Daniela Hantuchova in Eastbourne, which needs daily treatment and which she says "comes and goes". And she suffered from her serve deserting her midway through the second set of yesterday's match.

"I didn't serve quite as well as I wanted," she said, "and not as well as I did in my last match. So I got a little frustrated with that, which I shouldn't, but I don't get worried about it.

"I enjoy serving and volleying, and I enjoy mixing up the slice backhand and the hit-through backhand, which makes me feel comfortable on grass. It's also good for my game the rest of the year, too."

Jennifer Capriati, who beat Serena Williams in the French Open quarter-finals, is seeded to meet Williams in the same round here, though she has a tough fourth round match today against Nadia Petrova. Capriati, who has split from coach Heinz Günthardt because she got frustrated with the amount of time he was spending commentating on Swiss television, laboured to a 7-5, 6-1 win over Nathalie Dechy yesterday.

Having missed much of the early months of the year through injury, Capriati says she's feeling fresher, but has been bothered by the rain.

"It's hard with all the delays," she said. "It breaks up your rhythm. I feel like I came [to Wimbledon] with a really good rhythm, really sharp, but with the rain you sit around, and it's hard not to get sluggish and lose that quickness."

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