Shriver falls to Maleeva in Slims Soviet Meskhi beats Minter

August 22, 1991|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- After rallying to win her second-round match in the Virginia Slims of Washington, Leila Meskhi appeared surprised afterward when asked about her slow start.

"You mean [a question] about my match?" Meskhi, apparentlconfused, replied.

One can't really fault Meskhi's response after her 4-6, 6-1, 6-win over Anne Minter that puts her in today's quarterfinal. Since the 23-year-old Meskhi is from Tblisi in the Soviet Union -- and with the recent unrest there with the failed coup attempt -- she has answered more questions about what's been going on back home, than about her tennis.

"I watched TV, just before the match," said Meskhi, who habeen tied to the tube when not on the courts. "Things look much better now."

In other matches yesterday, No. 4 seed Jana Novotna easilhandled Laura Gildemeister, 6-1, 6-1; No. 6 seed Katerina Maleeva needed two hours, 35 minutes to hold off Pam Shriver, 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-1; and Judith Weisner advanced by defeating Radka Zrubakova, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Although Meskhi is relieved about yesterday's turn of events ithe Soviet Union, that wasn't the case on Monday after her win over Linda Ferrando. The coup attempt was in its early hours, and Meskhi was a nervous wreck after failed attempts to reach her parents.

"The situation is very bad in the Soviet Union," Meskhi, one othree Soviet players in the tournament, said then. "I was there two weeks ago, and there was no sign of anything. I'm not sure what's going to happen."

Now that all is apparently fine at home, Meskhi is hoping thafuture questions focus just on her tennis. She's No. 13 in the world, and this year won the Fernleaf Classic in New Zealand, and finished second to Gabriela Sabatini in the Family Circle Magazine Cup in Hilton Head, S.C.

After dropping her first set yesterday, Meskhi used her accurate two-handed backhand to keep Minter off-balance in breezing through the rest of the match.

"I started slow and she just played the first set better than I did," Meskhi said. "I tried to play much faster in the second set, and I played good in the third to win the match."

She'll have to be as consistent today against Novotna, the No. player in the world, who needed just 55 minutes to beat Laura Gildemeister, 6-1, 6-1.

"It was my first match [in three weeks] since the Federation Cuand I was worried," Novotna said. "But I was prepared, and it was an easy win."

A 22-year-old from Czechoslovakia, Novotna is hoping to focuon her tennis these days and not her world ranking. Earlier this year she got as high as No. 6, but Novotna claims her desire to crack the top five had a negative effect on her game.

"At the beginning of the year [I] set a goal to get to the Top 1and stay until the end of the year," Novotna said. "When I got [to No. 6], I felt I could be even better this year. I might have put a little pressure on myself."

The end result was a drop from six to seven after a loss in thquarterfinals of the Citizen Cup in May. She stayed there until a recent drop to No. 9 -- prompting a change in the way she approaches a match.

"I try not to think about rankings now, just play the way I know can," Novotna said. "As soon as you think about the rankings, it just doesn't work. Despite her problems getting focused, Novotna still has had her best year since turning pro in 1987. She lost to Monica Seles in the finals of this year's Australian Open, and earlier defeated Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the finals of the Holden New South Wales Open in Australia.

"By the end of the week," Novotna said, "hopefully I can say I'ready for the [U.S.] Open."

In the best match so far in the tournament, Shriver had perhapone of her better matches since coming back from shoulder surgery a year ago in her loss to Maleeva. The 29-year-old Baltimorean had seven aces, and had break point against Maleeva at 5-5 in the first set. But Maleeva went on to win the game and the tie-breaker and, after dropping the second set, was able to outlast Shriver in the third.

"I needed some endurance in my arm to play a good third set,said Shriver, whose right arm and shoulder were heavily iced. "I don't think I served well, but I came up with enough big serves at the right time."

Shriver's fatigue was clearly visible in the deciding set as shhad problems getting her first serve in and continually hit balls into the net. She double faulted seven times in the match.

"The match took its toll. She played well, and this is one of thmatches I need to dig out against a top player," Shriver said. "But I feel encouraged. I hit one [serve] 100 mph and said 'Wow, I haven't done that' " since coming back.

Singles, second round Jana Novotna (4), Czechoslovakia, def. Laura Gildemeister, Peru, 6-1; Katerina Maleeva (6), Bulgaria, def. Pam Shriver, Lutherville, 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-1; Leila Meskhi (7), Soviet Union, def. Anne Minter, Australia, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4; Judith Wiesner, Austria, def. Radka Zrubakova, Czechoslovakia, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.

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