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Hingis Stops Kournikova

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 4, 1997; Page C 1

WIMBLEDON, England, July 3 — Anna Kournikova had hoped that today would be the day she took her embryonic rivalry with fellow teen queen Martina Hingis out of tennis's locker rooms and onto its best-known court. On Centre Court today, Hingis essentially laughed in her face.

In the battle between 16-year-olds in the first Wimbledon semifinal, Hingis scored yet another triumph over Kournikova, this one a 6-3, 6-2 victory that made her the youngest Wimbledon finalist in 110 years.

And that match was only the tuneup for today's real spat — complete with bad blood, snotty remarks and friendship gone sour — which was played out when Jana Novotna and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario met late in this rain-interrupted day. After spending the eve of their match sniping at each other, the former doubles partners took their fight to the court and Novotna triumphed, 6-4, 6-2, to have the last word.

"I am very happy definitely," said Novotna, who celebrated wildly after her victory, and got what looked to be a very quick and cold handshake from Sanchez Vicario at the net. "Today, it was a very difficult match. . . . I was starting to play better and better as the tournament progressed, and today in the semis I probably played my best tennis."

Novotna and Sanchez Vicario used to be friends and doubles partners, and it was only two years ago that they hoisted the women's doubles trophy — one of 15 trophies they won together — at Wimbledon. Now, they rarely speak to one another, and when they do, it is often unpleasant.

The friendship unraveled in Atlanta last summer, when Sanchez Vicario beat Novotna in an Olympic semifinal, then seethed as Novotna criticized her talents to reporters. The acrimony boiled over on Wednesday evening, when Novotna talked about how Sanchez Vicario hadn't played anyone tough in this tournament, and Sanchez Vicario responded by accusing her former friend of jealousy.

"She started everything," Sanchez Vicario said. "She's the one who did not say nice things. She started everything after I beat her three times last year, and I don't know what she has against me. I just think that she hates probably to lose against me."

"She can say whatever she wants," Sanchez Vicario said later. "The results are there, and when she will win a Grand Slam, then she can talk about it."

One of Wimbledon's most memorable losers — she cried on the Duchess of Kent's shoulder after a third-set collapse against Steffi Graf in the 1993 final — Novotna needs just one more victory to exercise the privilege of which Sanchez Vicario spoke. Her net game is perfectly suited to Wimbledon's grass, and it overwhelmed Sanchez Vicario, a baseliner. But Hingis is the game's smartest player, capable of playing against any style.

"It's going to be a very interesting contrast, the number one player in the world, and a very young, talented player, against me, a grass court player," Novotna said.

The Sweet 16 party that opened Centre Court play was a letdown, given how much promise Kournikova had shown in earlier rounds. Even Hingis — who had won in straight sets in all three previous meetings, two in juniors' play — -was concerned that the young Russian might give her more trouble this time. She saw how well Kournikova played in beating French Open champion Iva Majoli in the quarterfinals on Wednesday and she thought she was in for a fight.

It never materialized. Hampered by a sore hip, the Kournikova who played today was little like the one who ran all over the place to beat Majoli with slicing cross-court returns and pretty drop shots. Kournikova still played aggressively, but she wasn't getting to the shots she had reached, easily, the previous day.

"I was a little bit tired, and I felt very sore in my left hip," admitted Kournikova, who pulled out of mixed doubles.

The big weakness in Kournikova's game is her serve, and that was exposed today, when her first serves were flat and rarely hit the corners, and her second serves were straight from the Hostess factory. Then again, serve seemed to mean little to either player during this meeting — neither managed to hold serve until Hingis did so in the seventh game of the first set. Kournikova held serve once all day, in the fifth game of the second set.

"It wasn't for sure one of my best performances at this tournament," Hingis said. "She really made some shots, especially on my second serve, but she also made a lot of errors. I was sometimes waiting for the mistakes."

When points went badly for her, Kournikova would often look up at the friends' box, where her mother sat with Kournikova's coach, Nick Bolletieri, and Kournikova's boyfriend, Sergei Fedorov of the Detroit Red Wings.

Bolletieri stressed today that Kournikova will be in matches like this again, and that she is getting more confident about facing Hingis. As far as the rivalry goes, though, it is still Hingis who gets the final word.

"I don't think it's such a big rivalry," Hingis said with her usual smugness. "I think until now I've always been better, and I always beat her at the great tournaments, as I did this time again. So she still has something to improve."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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