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Pierce Overpowers Sanchez Vicario in Australian Open

By Steve Wilstein
Associated Press
January 28, 1995

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, JAN. 28 (SATURDAY) -- Mary Pierce vaulted into the upper echelon of tennis at last today when she overcame early jitters and her fiery temper to upset Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-3, 6-2, and capture the Australian Open women's singles title.

Amid rumbles of thunder but no rain, Pierce's powerful baseline shots overwhelmed Sanchez Vicario.

In winning her first Grand Slam title, and doing it without dropping a set the entire tournament, fourth-seeded Pierce also moved up to a career-high No. 3 ranking. She became the first French woman to capture a Grand Slam singles title since Francoise Durr took the French Open in 1967 and the first ever to win the Australian Open.

No. 1 Pete Sampras and No. 2 Andre Agassi square off today for the men's singles title. Agassi is bidding to become the first man in 15 years to win a Grand Slam title without dropping a set. Sampras, defending champion, has won seven of their 12 matches.

The victory over top-seeded Sanchez Vicario couldn't have been swee\ter for Pierce, who lost to her in straight sets in the 1994 French Open final. That was one of five finals she reached in 1994, without winning any.

Pierce's fragile temperament had always seemed to get in the way of her talent. She worked hard to overcome that, switching coaches and getting away from the domination of her father, Jim Pierce, who was banned from WTA Tour events. But there were still times in this match when she teetered emotionally. She cursed herself, screamed, bopped her forehead with her racket, slapped her thighs, and went through other histrionics.

But Sanchez Vicario, a right-hander playing with tendinitis in her right arm, was unable to counter Pierce's strong groundstrokes or outlast her in rallies that sometimes included more than 30 shots. Usually the steadier player, Sanchez Vicario had 30 unforced errors to Pierce's 21 and had seven fewer winners.

But more than anything, it was Sanchez Vicario's serve that failed her. She held serve only twice and lost the first point of every service game.

"I didn't serve well enough, and she took advantage of that," Sanchez Vicario said. "She takes more control than any other players. She puts a lot of pressure on you.

"This is my second final {here}. Hopefully the third will be the lucky one," said Sanchez Vicario, who won her second French Open and first U.S. Open last year.

Sanchez Vicario, 23, could take solace in knowing her quest for No. 1 will be fulfilled in a week. She'll have it handed to her as a result of Steffi Graf's withdrawal today from next week's WTA Tour stop in Tokyo. Sanchez Vicario is not playing in Tokyo, but the points Graf will lose are enough to put the Spaniard ahead. "I don't think it's a big consolation," she said. "Being No. 1 is the result of all the matches throughout the year. I worked hard to be able to get there, and I'm very happy to be number one. It would be nicer if I would be able to win here."

Pierce's leap to No. 3 dropped Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez to No. 4.

"I think I'll never forget this in my whole life," Pierce said. "I think all the hard work has paid off, and it's a great way to start my year."

The final started sloppily with service breaks in the first four games. Pierce double faulted twice in Game 1. She shouted at herself when she slapped a backhand 10 feet wide to fall behind love-40 in Game 3, and complained when a backhand was called wide to cost her the game.

But in Game 4, longest and best of the match, Pierce broke Sanchez Vicario to 2-2 after a series of long and superb rallies. There were five deuces and four break-point opportunities for Pierce. She finally capitalized with a cross-court forehand into the corner.

She celebrated by holding serve for the first time.

Pierce broke Sanchez Vicario three times in the second set and served out the match with a backhand winner on the final point after 1 hour 25 minutes.

For a while Friday, Down Under took on new meaning as the court was submerged in ankle-deep water. Though the stadium roof was closed during a fierce storm, a flash flood from the polluted Yarra River swept over center court a few minutes after Agassi advanced to the men's singles final when Aaron Krickstein retired with a groin injury.

If Krickstein had not quit with Agassi in front, 6-4, 6-4, 3-0, the end of the match would have been postponed until today.

"Had he been healthy, we probably would be in a precarious situation playing tomorrow," Agassi said after reaching the Australian final in his first appearance here.

Agassi raced to a 4-1 lead in less than 20 minutes. Krickstein, 27, called the ATP trainer on court twice and was clearly bothered by injuries.

Krickstein said the groin pull was in the right leg, where his hamstring had been bothering him for several days. "I would have quit {earlier} at any other tournament," he said. Asked if he might have hung on had he known the flood would suspend the match minutes later, he replied, "I don't think I'll be playing for a while."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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