Viollet wilts under Hingis' onslaught

GUY HODGSON

Noel Coward would have written a song about it along the lines of bad slogs and English women, and it required a special kind of optimism for Rachel Viollet to draw encouragement at Wimbledon yesterday.

Out in midday sun she definitely went, collapsing 6-1, 6-1 in 40 minutes to Martina Hingis, which was hardly the ideal way to celebrate becoming British No 1 for the first time. But was she down-hearted to be losing to a child? Would Wimbledon welcome a player in a florescent lime shirt?

"She's got a lot of shots," Viollet said with an accent more Manhattan than her native Manchester, "but I'd love to play her again because I feel I've learned a lot. It gives me an indication of what it takes to get to the next level. I feel ready.''

Which is more than she had appeared on court. The two players had one thing in common in that they are named after a sports personality - Hingis after Martina Navratilova, Viollet after her former Manchester United playing father Dennis - but that apart they were not on the same planet never mind within the same tramlines.

Hingis is possibly unique in that her seeding of 16 is greater than her age, 15, yet if it was a woman against a girl out there it was the younger player who was holding the whip hand. She had so much command she even began experimenting with her tactics as the match wore on, advancing to the net to "try something".

What she did not try, however, was Viollet's service which is an extraordinarily complicated action that reminds you of someone trying to wash their back with a loofah. This contortion is the result of a shoulder injury which required two operations and a two-year lay-off that halted the 24-year- old's career physically if not mentally.

"It helped me," she said. "It made me realise how much I loved tennis. My desire to play was even greater after I had the operations. The serve is simple and it keeps pressure off my shoulder.''

There have been occasions when Steffi Graf has had to search deep inside herself to find out if he still loved the game. At 20 she said she expected to be off the court at 28 although she has withdrawn that estimate as that retirement date draws near (next June) and the prospect of a 20th Grand Slam title is a big incentive.

Particularly with the principal barrier to a seventh Wimbledon title, Monica Seles, removed from her path. Yesterday, on the same No 1 Court that had proved to be the second seed's graveyard, Graf laboured at first against Italy's Nathalie Baudone, ranked 122 in the world, but eventually prevailed 7-5, 6-3.

Graf, who admits to being short of practice due to a knee injury, started sluggishly and it was only when she came to terms with her opponent's serve into her body on the backhand side that she assumed command. Her drop shots were particularly effective.

Four set and numerous break points were squandered by the German champion before she took the first set by forcing an error from Baudone's backhand with a forehand drive. The second set was hardly a formality either but she served out to 15 to win in 67 minutes. Two matches played poorly, two wins; the top seed is looking ominous.

Two potential problems for Graf were nullified yesterday when the eighth seed, Lindsay Davenport, was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by Larissa Neiland and Magdalena Maleeva, the 10th, was ousted by Nathalie Tauziat, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon in 1992 and a winner at Eastbourne last year, 7-6, 3-6, 9-7.

Davenport lasted 59 minutes although Neiland had established a supremacy relatively early by taking a 4-0 first-set lead. There was a symmetry about the end of each set, an ace from the Latvian settling it.

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