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NOTES

Women's Side Has No Surprises

January 28, 1998|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MELBOURNE, Australia — While the men's side of the Australian Open has been reeling with upsets, the women's side has retained its seeded players and renewed long-standing rivalries.

Opponents in the semifinals are familiar, each pair having played eight times. One semifinal pits top-seeded Martina Hingis against 10th-seeded Anke Huber, with Hingis holding a 7-1 record. The other semifinal pairs eighth-seeded Conchita Martinez against second-seeded Lindsay Davenport, with Martinez holding a 6-2 advantage.

Hingis advanced out of the quarterfinals Wednesday, defeating fifth-seeded Mary Pierce, 6-2, 6-3. Huber advanced with a victory over seventh-seeded Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 7-6 (9-7), 7-5.

Huber, an Australian Open finalist last year, fought off a determined Sanchez Vicario, who made a few more unforced errors. Huber was unusually calm and reacted well to the few moments of trouble she experienced.

"I was much calmer in the important moments, in the tiebreak and in the first set," Huber said. "I played the important points well because I stayed quiet and tried to concentrate."

Sanchez Vicario had been carrying an eight-match winning streak. She won at Sydney, her first title in nearly two years. A two-time finalist here, Sanchez Vicario has never won an Australian Open title.

"The most important thing for me is to try to win a Grand Slam again," Sanchez Vicario said. She has won three Grand Slam titles. "Tennis is my passion and I still enjoy myself on the court. Grand Slams is what I'm looking for. I will continue to try to win as much of these as I can."

Hingis defeated Pierce in last year's final in straight sets and made Wednesday's rematch even less competitive.

Hingis had been looking vulnerable in the earlier rounds but regained her usual form. She was forcing play and anticipating Pierce's shots. The Swiss teenager helped her cause with only 10 unforced errors.

Pierce, too, reverted to type, looking exasperated, irritable and for someone to blame during most of the match. In the end, she blamed herself.

"Today I just wasn't at my best, Pierce said. "I wasn't moving good enough, I was taking it on the rise. My serve let me down today. But the best player won today."

Hingis was serving for the match at 5-2 in the second set, but she squandered one match point then surrendered to a break point from Pierce.

Pierce served to stay in the match but sent a backhand long to get broken.

*

The Williams' sisters tag-team challenge match against the good-natured Karsten Braasch was finally played. In front of an unusually packed crowd at far-flung Court 12 on Tuesday afternoon.

First up was 16-year-old Serena, whose idea it was to play a friendly match against someone on the ATP Tour. Braasch took some heat off his serve and sliced his returns and still defeated the teenager, 6-1.

Venus stepped against the German and managed to win one more game than her sister before losing.

Braasch approached the overhyped encounter by preparing for the match with a game of golf in the morning and smoking a cigarette between points.

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