Wimbledon 98: Smith's bravura turns to brittleness

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The Independent Online
IF IT was a surprise to see a British woman in the second week at Wimbledon the sense of shock did not linger. It needed only 53 minutes for Sam Smith, the heroine of People's Saturday, to go out on dark, dank Monday.

Smith, the first British woman to defeat a former champion at Wimbledon since 1977 when she beat Conchita Martinez in the third round, succumbed limply 6-3, 6-1 to France's Nathalie Tauziat. The match was every bit as one-sided as the scoreline suggests.

The bravura of Saturday when she forced Martinez into a sequence of errors was replaced by a brittle British No 1 whose shots were consistently short of the lines. She was asking her opponent to belt them past her and Tauziat, the 16th seed, duly obliged, breaking Smith six times.

If the crowd had been more behind her Smith might have been able to fortify her faltering play but the support she received was as tentative as her game. Court One was only three-quarters full and if there was a wall of encouragement it came from a Tauziat fan, whose lone voice managed to drown out everyone else. She did not need to shout very loudly.

"They were really willing me on," Smith said, "but she never really let me get in the match so that the crowd could get behind me. She takes the return so early that you feel she is on top of you. She takes your pace and throws it back at you."

Her consolation will be a place in the world's top 60. "I've gained a lot of confidence, belief I can go out there against the top players and if I'm playing well I'll beat them."

Smith's plan was to attack Tauziat's forehand but that was undermined when she lost her opening service game. She broke back but from 4-3 down the power against her was overwhelming and she won only one of the next eight games.

Serena Williams had no illusions about being in England. "Two days of rain," she said, "and I'm out of there." Which proved to be an optimistic weather forecast. Seven days of rain and she was out the championship, laid low by the greasy courts.

Williams, the American world No 20 and the younger part of the most most famous tennis sisters since Raine and De Layed Play, injured her left calf sliding round Court 18 yesterday and succumbed to Spain's Virginia Ruano-Pascual. Which, if nothing else, was a painful way to solve a test of family loyalty.

Oracene Williams, the mother of Serena and Venus, tries to involve herself in her daughters' careers as much as possible. Even with a broken ankle, courtesy of a fall downstairs, she has been wheeled from court to court to provide parental support which would have proved tricky if both girls had made it to the last 16.

Venus (18) versus Serena (16) would have been a delight for us - if a little difficult in the identification department - but a nightmare for Mrs Williams. Who do you support, the younger because she is the baby or the elder because she has more chance of winning the title? Thankfully the issue was resolved by a slip of a girl.

Serena retired at 7-5, 4-1 in her opponent's favour. In some you would have wondered whether the strain was due to the scoreline but as Williams had just won her first game of second set you had to give her the benefit of doubt. Indeed she was so disappointed she failed to shake hands at the end.

"My! I forgot," she said. "I guess I wasn't... I didn't realise. I didn't? Wow." You got the impression the oversight was not on purpose.

The disappointment on the day her sister made their provisional appointment with a 6-3, 6-4 win over fellow-American Chanda Rubin was rock sold genuine. "I definitely thought I was going to do well this year," she said, "and in the future I see myself as a champion. I played pretty good on grass. It doesn't hinder myself at all. I can see myself on Centre Court again."

Jana Novotna has been on Centre Court before and the chances are she will get there again if she continues to wallop players in the top 40 like she did Corina Morariu yesterday. Her 6-3, 6-1 win means she is only one match away from a mouth-watering quarter-final with Venus Williams.

The smoke has already cleared on the bottom half of the draw where Tauziat will play Lindsay Davenport in the last eight. The No 2 seed defeated Magu Serna 6-1, 6-0 yesterday in a 47-minute massacre that made you wonder how the Spaniard has a world ranking of 28.

The line-up is completed by Natasha Zvereva, conqueror of Steffi Graf and 6-4, 6-2 winner over Miriam Oremans yesterday and Monica Seles who gained revenge for last year's third-round defeat by Sandrine Testud, 6-3, 6-2.