Wimbledon `99: Dokic digs in to save dream

Sweet last 16 meeting with French favourite is next for the young Australian who humbled Hingis
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THE GOOD Ship Lollipop struggled forward yesterday a little shakily but, in the end, safely. Jelena Dokic, the teenager from Australia, reached the fourth round and a collision with Miss Creatine, Mary Pierce, by defeating the Luxembourg girl Anne Kremer 6-7 6-3 6-4 in one hour 53 minutes.

It was another fine win for a girl who had to qualify and who stands at 129 in the world rankings, but this was a travesty of a contest to put on Centre Court immediately after the high drama of Boris Becker versus Lleyton Hewitt. The high temple of tennis is for heroes and heroines of the sport, not wannabes and never-will-bes, and the customers voted with their feet as the atmosphere deflated like a punctured helium balloon. Even the royal box, Terry Wogan included, diplomatically decided it was time for tea in the middle of the second set.

Dokic, the 16-year-old qualifier from Australia, had pulled off the biggest upset on the women's side of Wimbledon for years when she overturned Martina Hingis, the world No 1, in the first round last Monday. The score of that sensational occasion, 6-2 6-0, indicated that Dokic has arrived to stay, but perhaps subsequently the enormity of what she had perpetrated that day has sunk in.

Her second-round win over Karina Studenikova was shakily achieved (8- 6 in the third set) and yesterday she showed in the most important arena of all that, her stunning backhand notwithstanding, there remains much work to be done. The intensity with which her father and coach, Damir, followed proceedings from the VIP box indicated that this work will certainly be undertaken.

Kremer is the best player in Luxembourg which, given the size of the country, is not saying a lot. She is 35th in the world rankings and at Eastbourne 10 days ago achieved the best win of her career by eliminating Monica Seles from the Direct Line Championships. She is, however, ailing, since her left thigh was heavily strapped and her serve is no more penetrating than Dokic's. This resulted in a farcical start to the match as 25 minutes passed before either player managed to hold serve. It was Kremer who achieved that honour to take a 4-3 lead and for the rest of the first set it was steady-as-you-go on serve for both of them.

This took the set into a tie-break which turned into a mini-marathon as the advantage swayed back and forth. Dokic, her long ponytail flying as she scuttled around the baseline, resembled a less svelte version of Anna Kournikova. Certainly La Kournikova has moved beyond the sort of fifth-form white pleated skirt favoured by the Australian.

Dokic went 2-0 up in the tie-break with an ace but then drifted out of contention and faced two set points at 4-6 as she projected a backhand wide.

Kremer squandered both these gifts with nervous backhands into the net, then netted a forehand when a third set point came along. But, offered a fourth chance when Dokic double-faulted, Kremer went one set up after 48 minutes, winning the tie-break by nine points to seven, as a Dokic forehand sailed long.

Clearly, this reverse was not to Dokic's liking. There were angry little girl gestures, a swat or two of the racket, and she set about correcting the trouble she had just been pitched into. For this, the scything two- fisted backhand was the key weapon. Time after time it left Kremer labouring in pursuit, and it has to be said she would have been beaten even without the handicap of the strapped leg.

The sequence of inability to hold serve continued without any significant pause into the second set. There were five breaks of serve, with double faults galore, but Dokic showed her mettle by breaking Kremer to take a 5-3 lead and then serving out with an ace to put the match back on an even keel after an hour and 21 minutes.

By now the Kremer resistance was fast losing steam. As her father watched impassively from the box, Jelena shot into a 3-1 lead in the deciding set and managed to hold on to that margin. Her special shot, the deep backhand, took her to match point, at which the disheartened Kremer sent a forehand service return into the net.

"After losing the first set you have to think positive," said Dokic. "I definitely didn't play as good as I did against Hingis but I have come from nowhere in this tournament so there will be no pressure against Pierce. Hopefully I'll play well again."

On Court One, Jana Novotna had an early stutter before reminding herself that she is the defending women's champion and seeing off the challenge of the Spaniard Maria Antonia Sanchez Lorenzo, 6-4 6-3. The girl from Barcelona, ranked 49 in the world, had already won one of her two meetings with Novotna and she jumped into leads of 3-0 and then 4-1 in the opening set before Novotna, who has been having problems with torn ligaments in her right ankle, settled in to take control.

Afterwards Novotna admitted: "It was a very difficult match. She started off playing really well and surprised me with the quality of her shots and good serves. She was winning some of the points very easily, so it was a great comeback for me to win that first set 6-4. After that I played pretty well against someone who has beaten me before.

"I was hitting extremely hard and served well, so I am pleased with my performance. But I am definitely happy to have this match behind me. My ankle is fine. I am going through a lot of [physio] therapy before and after every match. It is something I will have to work on for many weeks to come but I am moving well and I have no problems on court."

As for her chances of a repeat victory at the All England Club this year, Novotna said: "For me, to be in the second week of this championship in both singles and doubles is a great achievement. A couple of weeks ago I wasn't even sure if I was going to be here, so everything I am doing is a bonus."