Wimbledon '96: Graf dismisses the two Martinas

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The Independent Online
It was debatable yesterday as to which opponent got shorter shrift from Steffi Graf. They were both called Martina and both posed questions of the Wimbledon champion that she might have preferred not to answer. Each was dispatched with a dismissive gesture from a blunt object.

Martina II, aka Hingis, was walloped, 6-1, 6-4, to wholly and ruthlessly avenge one of only two blots on Graf's record this year, a defeat at the Italian Open. Martina I (Navratilova) was also thoroughly routed, although it was not a racket that caused the damage this time. The weapon the police were looking for in relation to the grievous bodily harm by Graf was her tongue.

"She's lucky she doesn't have to live with them," Graf said of her injuries after a report in an American paper stated that Navratilova had claimed the six-times champion was faking an injured knee to provide an excuse in the event of her being beaten. "I think she should know better than to say these things," Graf said.

"We saw each other in the locker-room two days ago and she said she was sorry the way it was put. She didn't really mean it how she said it."

Game, set and scratch to Graf, which was pretty much how it was when she appeared on court. She had a grudge to settle - a 6-2, 2-6, 2-6 defeat on the clay of Rome in May - and she began her work against Hingis as if the 15-year-old Swiss girl's behind was within range of her racket.

Yesterday her forehands sizzled off the strings, scorching into the corners and peppering the lines. If Graf had been serving even half-decently, squeamish supporters would have needed to leave the court. Even without that, she was ahead 5-1 when the players were forced off by rain. Five of Hingis's nine points had been from Graf double-faults.

"I was on top of her right from the beginning," Graf said, "because I lost the last match against her and I didn't want to give her a chance of getting into the match."

At the receiving end, Hingis could only hope the hurricane would blow itself out. "I wasn't nervous," she said. "I had nothing to lose. But at first it was much faster than in other matches. It was so different."

Just when it seemed that the NSPCC would have to be summoned to Centre Court to spare the youngster total humiliation, a higher being took a hand. The rain came down after 17 minutes, and when the players returned, the spite in Graf's strokes had been diminished. Instead of a massacre, we had a match.

Graf was serving better, although still not particularly well, and Hingis had a chance to show why she is regarded as a champion in the waiting. She attacked the German's backhand and, as her confidence grew, there was just the slightest glimmer of an upset.

That went with the sixth game of the second set. Hingis had two break points on the Graf serve but could not find the shot to give her a 4-2 lead. Graf, reprieved, sensed despondency on the other side of the net and went for the jugular. Ironically, in view of her serving problems, she wrapped the match up with two aces.

"I think it would have been easier for me if she had served more first serves," Hingis said, "because you just have to keep the racket there and the ball flows over the net. She puts more spin on the second serve and I hit almost every return wrong."

Graf could afford to be magnanimous, thinking ahead to the day in the near future when Hingis, 12 years her junior, will be more than just an early-round irritant. "She's really got a lot of talent out there," she said.

And the Graf knee? "It's fine," she replied. "No problem. I don't think it looked like I had a problem."

Mary Pierce, the 13th seed, has attracted attention only for what she is wearing. Yesterday may haved changed things. The Canadian-born French No 1 beat the rain storms and Russia's Elena Likhovtseva 6-2, 6-3 to move into her first Wimbledon quarter-final and to put her latest creation - staff nurse meets Mary Quant - to the back of the wardrobe.

"I'm enjoying myself now," Pierce said on her recent upturn.

Her route to the final was also eased considerably by the removal of Conchita Martinez, the 1994 champion, by Japan's Kimiko Date. The 12th seed won 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 after recovering from a break down in the second set.

Monica Seles may have departed from Wimbledon but the repercussions of her surprise defeat continue to reverberate around the All England Club. Yesterday the woman who beat her last week was removed by another woman who had a walk-on part when the Wimbledon second seed returned to grass.

The former was Katarina Studenikova, Seles' conqueror in the second round, who was eliminated 6-4, 6-0 by Meredith McGrath, the 25-year-old American who suffered at the esrtwhile Yugoslav's hands at Eastbourne. McGrath, who will meet the ninth seed Mary Joe Fernandez, is now through to her first quarter-final in a Grand Slam tournament and follows her win at Edgbaston Priory last month.

More reports, results, page 22