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Sabatini and Graf Are Out : Tennis: Novotna eliminates top-ranked woman; Sanchez Vicario ousts Argentine in Australian Open.

January 23, 1991|From Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia — Steffi Graf and Gabriela Sabatini wore the blank look of zombies and their slow, shocked voices sounded like run-down robots.

Four months after their electrifying duel in the U.S. Open final, where Graf succumbed to Sabatini's acrobatic net attack, they were eliminated Tuesday in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

Jana Novotna of Czechoslovakia, who lost her nine previous matches against Graf, beat the three-time defending champion, 5-7, 6-4, 8-6, to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam event for the first time.

Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain upset the fourth-seeded Sabatini, 6-1, 6-3.

"I was concentrating on all the points," Sanchez Vicario said. "I didn't want to miss this opportunity. I fought all the time and didn't give her any chance to hit back volleys. My passing shots were great."

Novotna and Sanchez Vicario, who have played each other six times, with Novotna winning all but their match at the French Open in 1989, meet in one semifinal. In the other, second-seeded Monica Seles, a 6-3, 6-1 victor over Anke Huber of Germany, plays third-seeded Mary Joe Fernandez, who beat Katerina Maleeva of Bulgaria, 6-3, 6-2.

Graf, the tournament's three-time defending champion, had her 25-match winning streak at the Australian Open broken.

"I feel great," Novotna said. "I beat the No. 1 player, and now I feel like this is it, the end of the tournament.

"I was better and more consistent at the net than ever. I was more aggressive. I didn't try to beat Steffi from the back. There are weaknesses in Steffi's passing shots, and I never choked at the net. That put pressure on Steffi because she knew I wasn't making any mistakes at the net. So she had to be perfect."

Graf, winner of seven Grand Slam titles in 1988 and 1989, had not lost in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event since the 1986 French Open.

She had trouble figuring out what Novotna was going to do.

"She can play from the baseline, or come in," Graf said. "She mixes it up. You never know what to expect. I have to improve my net game. I chose the wrong tactics to come in too much today. I just have to play better."

Sanchez Vicario broke all four of Sabatini's service games in the first set, and three of four in the second set. The first three games of the match took only nine minutes, with Sabatini broken twice and winning only two points.

"I think I started a little nervous," Sabatini said. "I started playing too short. I was playing too far behind the baseline."

Fernandez beat Seles in their first match in 1989, but Seles won their next two meetings last year.

Fernandez reached the Australian Open final last year before losing in two sets against Graf.

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