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When Curtain Drops, Hingis Takes the Bow

Tennis: Pierce's performance falls short. Davenport advances to semifinals of season-ending event.


NEW YORK — Martina Hingis, a sly veteran of 18, is quick to recognize subtle tools of the trade: the stalling, the well-timed bathroom break, the need for a trainer on changeovers.

Or more precisely, almost any match against Mary Pierce, a budding thespian disguised as a tennis player. The sixth-seeded Pierce, who wasn't sure what was exactly wrong Friday, needed attention from the trainer and put ice bags on her neck in an effort to cool down.

So when the ailing Pierce vanished for about five minutes--leaving the court presumably for a restroom stop late in the second set--Hingis got out her extra racket and started hitting with one of the ballboys.

Hingis immediately drop-shotted her new opponent.

The second-seeded Hingis was just as ruthless when Pierce reappeared, finishing off her quarterfinal opponent three games later for a 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 victory before a crowd of 13,208 in the season-ending Chase Championships at Madison Square Garden.

Hingis, who fought off a set point in the 12th game of the match when Pierce netted a forehand, avenged a quarterfinal loss to Pierce at New York last year, and also ended Pierce's two-tournament winning streak (Moscow and Luxembourg). She admits she is playing for pride in the waning days of 1998.

"This is the only thing I can play for right now," the Swiss player said. "I can't make it to No. 1 this weekend, so you just go out there and want to finish up well."

Earlier, top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Lindsay Davenport of Newport Beach had little trouble against eighth-seeded Nathalie Tauziat of France, winning their quarterfinal, 6-0, 6-3, in 53 minutes.

In today's semifinals, Davenport will play unseeded Steffi Graf of Germany, followed by Hingis against unseeded Irina Spirlea of Romania. Hingis is 5-0 against Spirlea. Graf holds a 7-3 record against Davenport, including a three-set victory Sunday in the final at Philadelphia.

Davenport is relishing the challenge of trying to stop Graf's 12-match winning streak.

"It is fun," she said. "I mean, she is obviously playing the best tennis right now. And you always want to go up against the best."

She believes there is some benefit to having faced Graf so recently.

"I don't mind as long as it is the semifinals," Davenport said. "It's not like it is the first or second round, which it could have been. Sometimes it is great to get back out there against someone that you recently lost to, some of the stuff is still fresh in your mind, maybe what you did wrong or what she did really well is still there."

Davenport's quarterfinal was a drastic contrast to her opening-round match, a three-set struggle against Sandrine Testud of France.

Davenport sailed through the opening set, winning in 19 minutes. Tauziat, who defeated Davenport at Wimbledon and Munich, made it more of a contest in the second.

"She played good tonight," Tauziat said. "Compared to other times, I didn't play really good."

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