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FRENCH OPEN / WOMEN : Navratilova Doubles Loss Upstaged by 12-Year-Old

Martina Navratilova made it to Center Court at Roland Garros Stadium perhaps for the last time Monday, but the most intriguing match was played far from the showcase venue at the French Open.

Navratilova, 36, fast fading from the scene, lost with partner Manon Bollegraf of the Netherlands to Julie Halard and Nathalie Tauziat of France, 2-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, in the third round of women’s doubles. Navratilova also lost in the first round of singles play last week, so her only chance to make her final French Open successful is in mixed doubles with Mark Woodforde of Australia.

As one of the game’s legends is concluding an illustrious career, fans already are talking about another Martina--Martina Hingis, a Czech living in Switzerland. Hingis, the defending French Open junior champion, will become a pro in September when she turns 14.

But Hingis might have some competition. At least, that’s the way it appeared Monday when 12-year-old Anna Kournikova of Moscow made her Grand Slam tournament debut in junior competition.

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Playing on a court that rarely generates much attention, Kournikova, all arms and legs, gave Nino Louarsabishvily, 17, a tough match in front of fans craning their necks to watch. Although Kournivkova was shorter than some of the ballgirls, she went three sets against the No. 7-ranked Georgian.

Yet another product of the Nick Bolletieri Tennis Academy, Kournikova has had an agent since she was 10. Although her play is not as refined as Jennifer Capriati’s was at 12, Kournikova displayed moxie in the 6-2, 6-7 (8-6), 6-4 loss.

In light of Capriati’s recent personal problems, some were already wondering what the future holds for Kournikova, who has spent the last 18 months far from home in an American tennis camp.

Adding to the natural pressures is Kournikova’s wont to grunt after each volley, a la Monica Seles. Fleet Street was out en masse, not only to watch, but to listen. If she reaches stardom, the grunt meter will no doubt reappear during the fortnight of Wimbledon.

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Tennis Notes

The women’s quarterfinals today will feature top-ranked Steffi Graf of Germany against Ines Gorrochategui of Argentina, No. 2 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain against Julie Halard of France, No. 3 Conchita Martinez of Spain against No. 16 Sabine Hack of Germany, and No. 12 Mary Pierce of France against 103th-ranked Petra Ritter of Austria.


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