Graf hears cheers as an 'underdog' Fans rally to her side as she struggles before easily beating Arendt

Wimbledon

June 30, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- When Steffi Graf finally earned a point, three games into her Centre Court match yesterday against Nicole Arendt, she was down 2-0 in games and had been adopted by the crowd as an underdog.

"I don't think that's ever happened before, where the crowd has cheered me just because I finally made a point," Graf said, smiling. "I don't think I've ever gone two games without scoring a point, either."

But Graf, who rallied for an easy, 6-2, 6-1 victory, said she wasn't worried. "I knew I didn't concentrate well enough," she said. "I knew it would be an easy match -- though I didn't expect it to be quite that easy."

Graf's win, combined with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 victory by 16-year-old Martina Hingis over Linda Wild, sets up one of the first intriguing matches on the women's side of this tournament.

Hingis, seeded 16th, beat Graf in Rome last month, and Hingis' confidence was showing a little yesterday.

"I'm happy to be in the fourth round and I have a good feeling going into next match," Hingis said. "I played Steffi here on grass last year and lost and I played her in Rome last month and won. I know it will be different here, but I don't think she's as good here as she has been. She's lost eight games already -- usually she doesn't lose any. I think she makes more mistakes than she did before.

"I know I lost to her on Centre Court last year. I know the crowd will be bigger and that the crowd will be for her -- but I have nothing to lose and I think if I play good, fast tennis, I have a chance."

Graf said simply: "I will try to do better than I did in Rome. I think this will be a different match."

In matches yesterday involving other seeded women, No. 3 Conchita Martinez, No. 6 Jana Novotna and No. 13 Mary Pierce won in straight sets, and No. 12 Kimiko Date won in three.

Assessing the Brit

Since Englishman Tim Henman has advanced to the fourth round, everyone has an opinion of his talent, his chances and the pressure he faces.

Said 1949 Wimbledon champ Ted Schroeder, an American: "What impresses me the most is his tactical awareness. I don't know whether it's acquired or instinctive, but he's got more of it than Andre Agassi will ever have."

Said Todd Martin: "For Tim's sake, I hope [the media] leave him alone and don't put the pressure on him that they have on every other of their players in the past -- or on their football team. He's had to play every day. I know how hard that is, even without anyone else's expectations. I'd like to see him get as far as he can."

If Henman gets to the quarterfinals, he could play Martin.

Olympic conflict

Tennis at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta brings mixed reviews from players here. Michael Stich, who won a gold medal in 1992, said he doesn't believe tennis should be in the Olympics.

"For tennis players, Wimbledon, U.S. Open and French Open are much more important than the Olympics," Stich said.

"Track and field athletes and swimmers train for four years to go to the Olympic Games and that's the highlight in their career. For tennis players it's not. . . . Having said all that, I'm honest and I still don't want to give back my gold medal."

Pete Sampras agreed that throwing the Olympics into the tennis schedule is difficult and noted only he and Agassi among the top U.S. players have agreed to take part.

"I think it's impossible to play the regular schedule, the Davis Cup and the Olympics in the same year," said Sampras, who will reduce his regular schedule and not participate in Davis Cup this year.

"But the Olympics are in Atlanta, in the United States, and I feel a responsibility to be there."

On the lighter side

No. 7 seed Thomas Muster didn't make it to Wimbledon because of a strained thigh muscle, which has no doubt disappointed a lot of his fans.

The Austrian magazine Happy Tennis reveals in its current issue that 207,000 of 3 million Austrian women would like to have Muster's child.

Arnold Schwarzenegger gets a mention, but Muster is seen as the most interesting Austrian [not just tennis player] of modern times.

Women evidently like his tanned body and his fitness and are convinced he would make a good father. The evidence? Long hours devoted to coaching underprivileged children.

Muster, not always the life of the party, did seem to go along: "The royal family have been on to me already," he said.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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