Wimbledon '97: Hingis reigns supreme in teenage showdown

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The Independent Online
The problem with history is that you cannot guarantee where it is going to happen. Britain waited for the momentous to unfold on No 1 Court yesterday only for Centre Court to provide it. It was like setting up your deckchair on the wrong Spanish beach and missing the Battle of Trafalgar.

All England expected; 16-year-old Martina Hingis did her duty, becoming the youngest Wimbledon finalist this century. If she wins tomorrow only Lottie Dod, at 15 years 285 days in 1887, will have been a younger champion. The down side of Henmania has been that she is not getting the acclaim she deserves.

Hingis, who will meet Jana Novotna in the final, beat Anna Kournikova 6-3, 6-2 in 1hr 2min that was not as easy as the scoreline suggests. The Russian possibly deserved a set, but Hingis is not in the habit of letting those slip, as six unblemished matches at Wimbledon testify.

"No one is going to ask what the score was," the No 1 seed said. "It's just a victory. It wasn't one of my best performances, but she really went for her shots. I was like 'Oh God, another winner'."

More importantly, the flat trajectory of Kournikova's no-compromise shots left little margin of error and it was a line she frequently crossed.

Nevertheless, Kournikova, also 16, has improved so much during the Championships that it has not required a fanciful imagination to foresee her rivalry with Hingis developing to the level that was Navratilova versus Evert. Martina won that series and another Martina yesterday went 2-0 up in the current one.

Hingis, for one, saw the latest victory as an instalment in a saga rather than a definitive statement. "This is not the first time and I'm sure there are going to be many more times. Everyone is making a big rivalry of it. Until now I've beaten her at the great tournaments but she's getting better and better."

The Russian girl is so new to this game that her career earnings are $205,659 (pounds 127,000), which would keep most teenagers in Spice Girls paraphernalia but is laughably small in a sport where Hingis, just nine months older, has accumulated more than $3m.

"I'm sure I'll learn something from this match," Kournikova said. "It's unbelievable I got to the semi-finals. I was dreaming about this."

When she wakes up to reality it is safe to say an urgent drill on the schedule at training camp in Florida will be getting a serve to land in the box in such a way it does not crave to be walloped. Hingis hardly threatened to break the record for aces either but at least her opponent had to think a bit.

The first six games went to the receiver so that when Hingis actually clung on to her serve you felt a turning point had arrived. So, clearly, did Kournikova who suddenly began to grimace with an injury to her left hip

What was really hurting her, however, was the innocuous nature of her opening shot. Kournikova did not win a serve until she was 3-1 down in the second set by which time Hingis had her gaze fixed on the finishing line. The last three games were over in a flash.

As was the second semi-final. A certain animosity has developed between Novotna and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the residue of a doubles divorce that was not entirely amicable.

When Novotna queried the force of her erstwhile partner's forehand the stinging return was: "When she has won a Grand Slam she can talk about it." If Sanchez-Vicario was the injured party, however, further insult was added in the manner of her 6-4, 6-2 defeat.

Novotna's serve and volley squeezed the life out of her opponent's back- court game, winning in 1hr 6min. At the end Novotna's danced round the court, her smile lighting up a dark Centre Court. However, the handshake, it must be said, was perfunctory.

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