Wimbledon `99: Pierce defends use of creatine

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MARY PIERCE and Lindsay Davenport cruised through in the Hingis- less top half of the women's draw yesterday, but the former champion Conchita Martinez sank with little trace and the seeded Julie Halard-Decugis became the latest victim of American teenager Alexandra Stevenson.

Davenport, having never advanced beyond the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, has progressed serenely to within one match of the last eight - where she can expect to meet Jana Novotna - and is content to have made neither waves nor headlines. "I don't create a lot of attention but for me that's not such a bad thing," said the third seed after easing past Italy's Laura Golarsa 6-3 6-2. "I don't do anything overly exciting and I don't have anything terrible in my closet."

Empty closet or not, the Californian had too much in her locker for Golarsa after twice saving two break points in an uncertain start. Davenport made the most of her advantage in height and power yet lobbed the Italian with subtlety when her opponent advanced to the net. Next she will meet the 14th seed, Austria's Barbara Schett, who knocked out Larisa Neiland in straight sets.

Pierce went on her imperious way in defeating Elena Wagner 6-3 6-0 - she has dropped only 12 games in three victories - then defended her controversial use of creatine. "I used it twice in my career, once for about a week and once for 10 days," she said. "I was surprised at all the fuss about it. It's like any other supplement you take - when you get sick and take vitamin C, does it help you? It's in a lot of daily vitamins and sports drinks. I don't think it has the same muscle-building effects as steroids."

Pierce feels her growing familiarity with grass is more significant. "I didn't enjoy grass very much when I first started," she said. "Every year now I'm getting more comfortable and starting to understand how to play." Her second set, in particular, was a procession.

Halard-Decugis, seeded 11th and ranked 18 in the world, became the latest scalp for Stevenson, who was still technically an amateur when she stepped out on Tuesday. With a place at UCLA to study drama being dangled before her, she finally decided to take the plunge into professionalism. After three straight victories that should mean a minimum of pounds 26,280, though last night there was confusion over whether she would be entitled to any prize money from this tournament.

Like her previous victims, Halard-Decugis could not cope with a booming serve and the backhand that Ellsworth Vines told Stevenson, shortly before he died, would one day win her Wimbledon. The two might have met at Edgbaston a fortnight ago when the Frenchwoman beat her compatriot Nathalie Tauziat to win the tournament after Stevenson withdrew during her quarter-final with a stomach injury. That was the only loss in her last 13 matches on grass - a surface made for her game - and there will surely be many more successes to come.

There will also be abundant opportunity for indulging in theatricals and her press conferences should be thoroughly entertaining. "Great fun, thank you very much," was her parting shot after yesterday's, whereupon her journalist-mother took centre stage with a dozen new anecdotes before being ushered from the room by a Wimbledon jobsworth.

Next up for Stevenson will be her compatriot Lisa Raymond, an easy winner against Martinez, 6-3 6-1. Wimbledonians who watched Martinez upset Martina Navratilova in the 1994 final must have been disappointed with her efforts. Down to 20th in the world, yesterday she cut a forlorn figure. Raymond broke three times to whizz through the second set in no time, completing a notable Spanish double after seeing off Arantxa Sanchez- Vicario in the previous round. She is likely to find Stevenson harder to handle.