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TENNIS WOMEN AT PALM SPRINGS : Peanut Bags Two Big Victories

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mareen (Peanut) Louie Harper, who leads the Virginia Slims of Palm Springs in names, doesn’t mind being a 30-year-old who is still called Peanut.

In fact, Peanut, or Pea for short, doesn’t mind one little bit to share names with a legume.

“People never say ‘You’re too big to be called a peanut,’ ” Harper said. ‘A lot of people call me Pea, actually, but there’s only two or three people in the world who call me Maureen.”

Louie Harper, the daughter of a Kung Fu instructor, delivered a one-two to two seeded players Saturday, dispatching No. 3 Helena Sukova and No. 13 Catarina Lindqvist, all in about three hours, to reach today’s quarterfinal round at Bono’s Racket Club.

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First, Louie Harper (she doesn’t like hyphens) closed out her rain-delayed second-round match with Sukova, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), an encounter that lasted three sets, 35 games, two tiebreakers and required parts of four days to complete. Rain Wednesday interrupted the match at 2-2 in the third set.

After trailing, 4-1, in the tiebreaker Saturday, Louie Harper rallied to close out the match, which is exactly what she did in the first tiebreaker Wednesday when Sukova led, 4-1, and failed to win another point.

“That should have been the match right there,” Sukova said.

Said Peanut: “I was lucky.”

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She was merely little, the youngest of five children of Ron and Alice Louie, when Maureen was nicknamed Peanut because of her size. No one else in the family has a nickname, Peanut said.

“Not a funny one, anyway,” she said. “One sister (Marcie) is Cici, but that’s just regular.”

All the way up to 5 feet 5, Louie Harper picked on someone her own size, Lindqvist, who is also 5-5, and ranked No. 33, or 76 places better than Peanut at No. 109.

Louie Harper completed her rare double play, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, a match littered with 15 service breaks, closing it out when Lindqvist double-faulted on match point.

The second-oldest player in the draw--Martina Navratilova is 34--Louie Harper described her position in life this way: “I’m old.”

Martina the Elder played briskly and arrived at a quarterfinal matchup against Julie Halard with a 50-minute, 6-0, 6-2 victory over 22-year-old former Pepperdine All-American Ginger Helgeson.

Navratilova had three full days off since her only other match Tuesday and has watched it rain since then.

“I was a bit rusty,” Navratilova said. “I got 15 minutes of tennis in three days. Yesterday I did nothing--just ate, all day long.”

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Navratilova’a principal antagonist, Monica Seles, required minutes longer to reach the quarterfinal round.

Seles trounced Sabine Appelmans in 55 minutes, 6-3, 6-0, after awakening in her hotel room to the shock of seeing bright sunshine out her window.

“It was like you woke up in a different city,” Seles said, blinking.

Next for Seles in her quest for the No. 1 ranking, which could she could claim in the final Monday, is 25-year-old Cambodian Patricia Hy, who upset fifth-seeded Amy Frazier, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Hy, pronounced Hee, said she is looking forward to playing Seles. “She’s like the best in the world, if not the best,” Hy said.

She could also wind up as the most tired, but at least Seles may not enjoy such a distinction alone. All quarterfinal matches and the semifinals will be played today with the final scheduled for noon Monday.


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