Sprem shakes off injury to topple Maleeva

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The Independent Online

Karolina Sprem went to bed at 3am yesterday and got up four hours later, unable to sleep due to the pain from an ankle injury sustained on Sunday.

The 19-year-old Croatian's dream of making the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time was in doubt, and her stirring string of wins here, including the one against Venus Williams in the second round last week, seemed to have been in vain.

Adversity obviously works for her. By 1.30pm yesterday, after a remarkable straight-sets win, 6-4, 6-4, against Magdelena Maleeva, her last-eight berth was booked.

Sprem will next face Lindsay Davenport, the 1999 champion and the No 5 seed, although she insisted that her progress yesterday was more uncomfortable than it looked.

"It's great, perfect, unbelievable feeling," she said of winning. "[But] I didn't know before the match whether I would play or not. They taped me well, the leg, and I didn't feel the pain.

"But in the match it was difficult, thinking about the leg and not about the match. I needed to be concentrating on my next point but I just keep thinking about the leg. I was fighting against Maleeva and I was fighting against my leg."

It was evident Sprem was also fighting nerves, something she later admitted. Neither player could find a rhythm and almost every game went to deuce.

The players traded early breaks before Maleeva dropped her serve for the second time in the seventh game. That proved decisive in Sprem winning the first set in 32 minutes.

The second set followed the same pattern before Sprem secured the biggest win of her life on her fifth match point after Maleeva mis-hit a groundstroke. After completing her task, there was just one thing on Sprem's mind.

"I just want to go back to the hotel and sleep because I need to sleep," she said. She added that she hoped today would be a day off.

Unless the rain intervenes, it certainly won't be. Her match against Davenport has been scheduled second on Court No 1 this afternoon.

Asked if she felt she had momentum in this tournament, followed her wins over Maleeva (the No 21 seed), Meghann Shaughnessy (seeded No 32) and Williams (No 3), the unseeded Sprem was reluctant to take any further progress for granted.

"I don't know," she said. "It's a big deal being in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. It's the first time I'm in the second week of a tournament.

"I'm just playing match by match, point by point. If I can win my next match, I'll be happy. I just want to go on court and play 100 per cent."

Predictably, Sprem was again asked about the controversial umpiring error in her match with Venus, and whether she thought it was a correct decision that the umpire, Ted Watts, will play no further role in the tournament. Sprem was erroneously awarded a point in the crucial second set tie-break of a match she won 7-6, 7-6.

"What can I say? It's not my business," she said.

"I leave this behind me. I don't want to think about this or talk about it any more. It's bad luck for the umpire, but he needed to do his job [accurately]. It's not my job to be thinking 'What's the score?'"

Pushed on whether she would do anything differently if a similar situation arose - the subtext to the question being whether she should have accepted a point knowing it had been wrongly given - she said: "I was confused. I didn't know what was happening."

Venus's misfortune became Sprem's good luck. But her misfortune at having to play Davenport so soon might yet prove to be beneficial to the American.

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