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AUSTRALIAN OPEN / WOMEN’S FINAL : Sanchez Vicario, Pierce Meet Again

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is nothing so fraught with potential drama as a rematch. As theater, it works on several levels. Revenge, dominance, another chapter in a rivalry.

Today’s women’s singles final will rejoin last year’s French Open finalists, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Mary Pierce, in a match that will feature players who are opposites in temperament and style.

Sanchez Vicario beat Pierce, 6-4, 6-4, to win her second French Open and second Grand Slam title. It also propelled her into a new realm of respect on the women’s tour, which began to see her less as a willing scrambler than as a true champion.

The title was an important hurdle for Sanchez Vicario, who was humiliated in the 1994 final here against Steffi Graf. Graf, ever the Spaniard’s nemesis, crushed Sanchez Vicario, 6-0, 6-2. Many believe that Sanchez Vicario’s theory about lack of respect on the tour stems from that match.

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Sanchez Vicario, who defeated Graf in the U.S. Open in September, yearned to beat the German here this year, but Graf withdrew because of a leg injury. If she can beat Pierce, Sanchez Vicario can do the next best thing, take over Graf’s No. 1 spot.

Sanchez Vicario might be the one player on the tour who can effectively blunt Pierce’s power tennis approach. She thrives on pace, and the harder and faster Pierce hits, the sharper the angle Sanchez Vicario will hit back.

Pierce, seeded fourth, is hoping to become the first female French tennis player since 1967 to win a Grand Slam title. Her comportment here has been much in question. She has been warned for taking too much time when she serves and has displayed a petulant streak.

It doesn’t seem to be affecting her tennis.

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“I think in the French I was playing a lot better tennis; I think I was just playing unbelievable, the best that I’ve ever played,” Pierce said. “I think here I’ve played really good, and not so good sometimes, but I think mentally I’ve been very consistent, more consistent. So I think I’ve gained more experience and confidence.”


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