Wimbledon 96 : Final beckons Sanchez Vicario

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The Independent Online
They all swear blind that it is each game as it comes, yet more than one woman at Wimbledon steeled herself, took a deep breath and had an optimistic peek at the bottom of the women's singles draw after Monica Seles was removed from it. Whether anyone studied the either/or equations with her heart beating faster than Arantxa Sanchez Vicario is debatable.

The Spaniard had been scheduled to meet Seles in the semi-finals but now, courtesy of Katarina Studenikova, the route to a successive final appears to be relatively clear. Certainly, her opponent yesterday, Naoko Sawamatsu, did not present a formidable barrier.

There were nine Japanese women in the singles, a remarkable advance for the land of the rising daughter, but despite a more than respectable record at Wimbledon, she did not have the game to trouble Sanchez Vicario. The groundstrokes, yes, but the imagination, absolutely no.

The first set was a baseline battle of attrition in which Sawamatsu broke in the fourth and sixth games only for Sanchez Vicario to trump with breaks of her own in games three, seven and nine.

Once the fourth seed knew that her opponent had few surprises in her kit-bag, however, it was a formality and, despite an interruption for rain, she won 6-4, 6-1.

"I concentrated better after the break," Sanchez Vicario said. "I started playing more aggressive, trying to go for my shots. I think I improved when I needed to. I'm playing better at this stage than I was last year. I feel more comfortable.''

Apart from a pain in the wrist that is. Just about the last thing the championships need, particularly with Boris Becker's withdrawal, was another name to succumb to injury so it was probably more than the medical staff who were concerned when Sanchez Vicario pulled up with a wrist injury during the match.

"I stretched one of the ligaments in my arm as I went for a shot," she said, "and my wrist went the other way. It's not anything important. I'll just have to take care."

One seed who did not take sufficient care was Brenda Schultz-McCarthy who appears to have everything she needs to succeed at Wimbledon but manages to blow it on an annual basis. This time the Dutch 11th seed found a way to make an early exit against Sabine Appelmans.

The Belgian plays left-handed because her friends used to when she was little, which makes you wonder what kind of player she would be if she ever used the stronger wing because she tamed the most violent serve in the women's game with some blistering returns.

Schultz-McCarthy blasts the ball down at speeds approaching 120mph and at 6ft 2in she rarely has to do much more than stretch out her arms to finish off the job even if her opponent's co-ordination is fast enough to make a return. Appelmans' was quick and accurate, and faced with the novel experience of having to move her feet, Schultz-McCarthy was slowly worn down 7-5, 3-6, 12-10.

Four years ago one man put pounds 10,000 on that Schultz-McCarthy would Wimbledon one day, a bet that is looking less wise by the year. It would have taken an extremely bold punter, however, to place money on Mary Joe Fernandez lasting longer in the tournament than Seles after she had been forcibly removed from the court by the erstwhile Yugoslav in the final of Eastbourne last Saturday.

While Seles is winging her way back to Florida, Fernandez is through to the last 16 with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Argentina's Florencia Labat. To date she has got that far for the loss of a mere 10 games and looks like a woman with a mission to remove a bad memory.

"Monica on a strong day," she said of Eastbourne while failing to mention that it was a jaded one for her after two matches and six sets against Conchita Martinez and Jana Novotna on the day before. "I am surprised that she's gone out but the competition is so strong these days you never can be totally confident."

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