MARTINA HINGIS hit three balls high into the stands after advancing to the semi-finals of the Lipton Championships here, and the spectators who caught them each received a prize. They were the only gifts Hingis handed out yesterday.
Barbara Schett, the Austrian who eliminated Anna Kournikova in her previous match 6-1, 1-6, 6-1, saw similar figures on the scoreboard, but this time they were in favour of her opponent, 6-1, 6-1.
Hingis, the world No 1, required only 43 minutes to complete her afternoon's task and now waits for the winner of the quarter-final between Serena Williams and Amanda Coetzer.
Pausing for breath before preparing to play Coetzer, Williams addressed the reason for her success so far this season. "Last year I was young," she said. "It was my first time playing matches against top players. This year I guess you can say I'm old." All of 17, in fact.
The younger of the American sisters (Venus, the defending champion, is due to play Jana Novotna in the quarter-finals in the opposite side of the draw today) had just stepped off the Stadium Court after overpowering the 25-year-old Monica Seles 6-2, 6-3 in the fourth round. It seems only yesterday that Seles was making similar charming statements, such as her response when asked if winning the 1990 French Open would be likely to change her: "No, I'll still be the same little old me."
Seles, the No 3 seed, is not exactly careworn in spite of the troubles that have beset her career since that happy day in Paris, and is always prepared to give credit where it is due. "Serena just hit unbelievable shots," she said. "She's up there with the fastest players: Venus, her sister, and, probably on clay, Arantxa [Sanchez-Vicario]. I mean, you still have to play tennis no matter how fast you are."
Serena Williams is undefeated in her two matches against Seles, the latest success extending her recent run to 14 straight victories, incorporating consecutive WTA Tour titles, in the Paris Open and the Evert Cup in Indian Wells, California. "I actually think Monica played very well today," she said, having had the better of the majority of the hard-hitting rallies and also capitalising on Seles' errors.
"She probably came out really trying to play me well, and I actually saw her run fast today. Any other day it was different, but today, boy, was she on the run. She got balls I really didn't expect her to get. That was my fault, because I should expect everyone to get every ball."
Seles, whose prospects of retrieving shots may improve during the clay- court season (last year she was a finalist at the French Open, losing to Sanchez-Vicario), was disappointed not to have made more of the opportunities she created. "I started off pretty good but, every time that I had a chance, I made a mistake or Serena hit unbelievable shots. There's no in-between. When she needed to come up with a great shot, she did."
Her sister Venus has lost each of her three previous matches against Novotna, on carpet courts in Moscow and Hanover and on grass in last year's Wimbledon quarter-finals, when Novotna was en route to her first Grand Slam singles title. It will be interesting to see if Williams fares better against the Czech serve-volleyer on the medium-paced concrete here.
Anke Huber, who thrashes the ball from the baseline, gave Williams a testing time in the fourth round, the American squeezing through, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6. "I don't think I was aggressive enough," Williams said. "I was waiting too much for something to happen instead of making something happen."
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