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Hingis Can Smile ... Now

Relaxed, semi-retired former No. 1 visits Wimbledon and sees her conqueror, Dokic, fall.

June 29, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England -- How quickly things transform in the shifting landscape of women's tennis. Jell-O has more stability.

In 1999, the haunted and hunted No. 1 was sent out of Wimbledon in the first round by a hard-hitting 16-year-old qualifier. On that day, Martina Hingis tried to smile but the emotion never made the long journey to her eyes.

On Saturday, Hingis was beaming, making the rounds on the grassy balcony just below the players' restaurant. She wore jeans and looked fit, visiting with friends and acquaintances.

Celebrating a third-round win at Wimbledon? Not exactly. Hingis hasn't played on the professional tour since October. And odds are overwhelming that she won't ever be going back to the day job that made her famous.

Her surprise appearance at Wimbledon neatly completed a circle. Jelena Dokic was the 16-year-old who stunned Hingis in 1999. And on the day Hingis showed up again at the All England Club, Dokic, now 20, looked weary and unsettled, knocked out of the tournament by Maria Sharapova of Russia, a 16-year-old wild card making her Wimbledon debut.

Sharapova finished the match with an ace, defeating the 11th-seeded Dokic, 6-4, 6-4, hitting eight aces and double-faulting only once. In Monday's fourth round, Sharapova will play 18-year-old countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova, who beat Emilie Loit of France, 6-1, 6-2.

"When I come into a tournament, I'm expecting to win," said Sharapova, one of five Russian women to make the final 16. "That's my philosophy. I can't go to a tournament thinking, 'Yeah, I'm going to [lose] today, so I might as well leave."

Said Dokic: "I think a lot of players still don't know the way she plays. When you come out on the court, you don't know what to expect. But it will be a different story in a year or two when people actually know how she plays."

Sharapova is a walking contradiction, sounding like an articulate university student and then saying in her WTA biography that she likes to read the Pippi Longstocking series. Her coach, Robert Lansdorp, says she plays without fear.

"Sometimes she's a little girl, just barely 16, and when I see her doing interviews, she looks like a 20-year-old," Lansdorp said from his home in California. "She's so disciplined. You find that with the champions. She said to me [today], I have to go do my homework."

His version of tough love hasn't always gone over well with kids on the tennis court. Pete Sampras remembered when his younger sister Stella burst into tears during one lesson with Lansdorp when they were kids playing in the South Bay.

"Inside of me, I know what it takes to be a champion, and I know with his attitude he can make me a champion," Sharapova said. "When someone's on the other side, a really nice guy, and when I hit the ball in the fence, he says, 'Oh, that's all right. You know, next time you'll get it better,' it doesn't really improve me. It's all right that he's a tough guy, and I know he is, but that's what makes me a better player."

Besides, she knows he has a big heart under the famously gruff exterior. She recalled one rainy day when he felt bad because she couldn't spend the holidays with her father. Lansdorp arrived with a surprise.

"He got me my Christmas tree when I couldn't get one," she said, smiling.

For Sharapova, reaching the fourth round in her first trip here might as well have been Christmas in June.

"I'm very happy and I'm very surprised," she said. "Yes, I'm very young. I'm 16 and I'm in the fourth round of Wimbledon. How odd is that?"

The top women advanced routinely in other third-round matches, as defending champion Serena Williams defeated Laura Granville, 6-3, 6-1, and No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium beat Alicia Molik of Australia, 6-4, 6-4. In the round of 16, Henin-Hardenne will play the resurgent Mary Pierce of France, who dispatched serve-and-volleyer Lisa Raymond, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

The men produced a bit more drama. The combination of No. 2 Andre Agassi and Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco was electric on paper and even more electric on Centre Court, as Agassi won the 3-hour 13-minute match, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4).

In the fourth round, also on Monday, Agassi will face Australian-turned-Californian Mark Philippoussis. On Court 2 Saturday, Philippoussis served 33 aces and double-faulted 12 times in defeating Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (6).

"If anything, I would say it was just a gutsy win," he said. "I think I played good at times, but it was just one of those matches. I just fought hard and just kept fighting and came through."

Philippoussis moved to Southern California about a year ago after a week-long surfing trip following Wimbledon turned into something more than a quick flirtation with the waves.

"I ended up going to San Diego, hooked up with some guys there," he said. "I just fell in love with the place. I fell in love with the people there. I just felt it was time for a change of location for me. I guess I felt maybe Florida is a bit unlucky for me."

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