Out-of-sync Graf sunk in Open Schnyder, 19, bounces five-time champion

No. 2 seed Rios falls

September 07, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- A Swiss Miss beat Steffi Graf on the Arthur Ashe Stadium Court at the U.S. Open last night. And it wasn't Martina Hingis.

This was the other one, No. 10-ranked Patty Schnyder, a 19-year-old from Bottmingen, Switzerland, who used solid serves and a devastating forehand to end Graf's Open comeback.

Schnyder's victory was Graf-like. A decisive, 6-3, 6-4, in 59 minutes. But one couldn't call it painless.

Graf, who was the crowd favorite, yelled at herself and tried every ploy she could think of to find her rhythm, but could not.

And afterward, as she considered what had happened on court, she wore a sad expression, the corners of her mouth unable to find even a hint of a smile.

What happened? she was asked.

"Obviously, I made a lot of mistakes," she said, referring to her 33 unforced errors. "I just couldn't I never found my game."

Earlier in the day, Monica Seles needed some time to rediscover her game, too. The No. 6 seed had it at the start of her match with Kimberly Po, but had to relocate it in a third set before advancing to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory.

That win, combined with Hingis' 6-4, 6-4 victory -- despite 41 unforced errors -- over Nathalie Dechy yesterday, sets up one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament, as the Open moves into its second week.

Seles will face No. 1 Hingis in the quarterfinals tomorrow. It will be their third rematch of the summer. Seles holds the upper hand, 2-0. But with both of them turning in uneven performances, no one is quite sure how their match will go.

"If I am going to continue playing like this, I'm not going to go anywhere," said Hingis, who, like Seles and most other players yesterday, was bothered by the swirling wind on the stadium court. "I'm just kind of escaping every day. I was motivated when I came here to do well, but kind of instead of getting better, I'm getting worse; that's the feeling I have. I definitely have to raise my level against Monica."

No. 3 seed and Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 9 Irina Spirlea. She'll face Schnyder, who raised an eyebrow and chuckled, "I'm glad we're not playing on grass."

On the men's side, things got a bit more haphazard, too, as the Sweet 16 was completed. Second seed Marcelo Rios dropped the last three games in the fifth set, falling to unseeded Magnus Larsson, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.

No. 5 seed Richard Krajicek was forced to retire in the second set of his match with Thomas Johansson, due to a flare-up of tendinitis in his left knee. Krajicek was up a set, 7-6, 4-5, when he bowed out.

And two young Americans each played five-set matches before heading for the exits. First Jan-Michael Gambill forced No. 10 seed Carlos Moya into a fifth-set tiebreaker before Moya won, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4). Then, in a battle of unseeded players, Geoff Grant fell to Oliver Gross, 7-5, 6-7 (5-7), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. Until this Open, Gross had one victory in eight Grand Slam tournament appearances.

Graf slowly has been working her way back up the rankings since undergoing left knee surgery June 10, 1997. She is at No. 26 now, but was seeded eighth here because of her past performances, which include five titles, the last coming in 1996.

On that day two years ago, Graf defeated Seles and then stood in a driving rainstorm, drinking in every moment with delight. It was her 21st Grand Slam title and, to this point, her last.

The week before this Open, Graf won her first tournament in a year, and, in her first three Open matches, she looked great. And she felt great. But Schnyder, she had warned two days ago, was dangerous, and last night the left-hander showed just how dangerous.

And when Schnyder talked about Graf, about how she respected but did not fear her and about her game plan, it was another reminder of how much work Graf still has to do if she plans to get back on top.

"It went so quick," said Schnyder. "My plan was, especially on my serve, to hit it to her backhand, because her backhand is her weakness."

It is a stunning statement, almost incongruous, to put the words weakness and Graf in the same sentence. The old Graf was too strong for almost everyone on the tour. But now that she is 29 and coming back from injury, it seems the new Graf is old.

"I think the lack of match play probably has to do with it," Graf said of her backhand. "I am disappointed with the way this match went, but I've been playing better the last few weeks -- better than this. I finally feel my game is getting together, but I'm still having setbacks. I feel I can do so much better than I did tonight, I'm going to work on [her shots] during my coming break. I just need to stabilize my game more. I'll be back."

Results

Men's singles

How seeds fared in third round

Magnus Larsson def. Marcelo Rios (2), 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2;

Thomas Johansson def. Richard Krajicek (5), 6-7 (5-7), 5-4, retired;

Alex Corretja (7) def. Byron Black, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5);

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