Sanchez Vicario Eludes Serena Williams in 3 Sets

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What happened to Serena Williams and Anna Kournikova a few groundstrokes away from the French Open quarterfinals?

It’s simple.

They turned back into inexperienced 16-year-olds.

Twice, Serena Williams was two points from advancing before unraveling in a sea of forehand errors, losing to two-time former champion and No. 4-seeded Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, in a 2-hour 42-minute fourth-round match at Roland Garros on Sunday.

Hours later, No. 13 Kournikova, of Russia, was reduced to tears when she was not allowed to go the bathroom during her fourth-round match against No. 3 Jana Novotna of the Czech Republic in the third set. The two split sets and Novotna led, 4-1, when Kournikova made the request.

First, Kournikova asked about halting the match because of darkness, saying she could not see. When that failed, she asked for the restroom break, but Bruno Rebeuh, head of officials, said the changeover was completed when she made the second request.

Kournikova spent the next game wiping away tears in between hitting groundstrokes. The 16-year-old, seemingly going on 26, was acting like a kid who was denied permission to go to the mall, losing all pretense of poise.

When Kournikova managed to win the game, cutting the deficit to 4-2, Novotna, who has a history of spectacular collapses, alertly asked for a stoppage because of darkness--as it was nearly 9:30 at night in Paris--and the players were allowed to depart and will finish the match today.

The late hour nor weather was able to save Serena Williams. Sunday was the first time she looked like someone who was playing in her first French Open. Williams, unseeded and ranked 27th, turned in an overwhelming display of power tennis against Sanchez Vicario, leading 6-4, 5-2.

Then the inexperience crept in. She was within two points of winning twice, first at 5-2 and then again at 5-4. Sanchez Vicario was serving to stay alive in both games.

At 5-4, Williams had Sanchez Vicario down 30-0. Sanchez Vicario crawled back to 30-30 and watched Williams smack two forehands into the net. Once Sanchez Vicario evened the set, at 5-5, the match was essentially over.

Williams was never the same player. And Sanchez Vicario knew it.

“I never give up,” Sanchez Vicario said.

The atmosphere between Williams and Sanchez Vicario was chilly. In the third set, Williams whaled a forehand that barely missed Sanchez Vicario’s right shoulder. That, among other things, greatly annoyed the Spaniard.

“It went close, I’m glad [it didn’t hit me],” she said. “She [Williams] started laughing, looking at me badly. Like I said, she doesn’t have respect for the other person who is across the net. So I win the match and I show her. I teach her a lesson.

“I don’t think she can act like that.”

The other area of contention was not Williams’ fault. In the final game of the first set, at deuce, Williams dug out a short ball on the run and eventually won the point after Sanchez Vicario tumbled to the ground. It was ruled that Williams got the ball before the second bounce, and the television replay showed the call was correct. Williams won the set one point later.

Sanchez Vicario disagreed with the call and was upset when Williams said, “One bounce Arantxa, one bounce.”

“She came to the net talking very aggressively, that she won the point,” Sanchez Vicario said. “That ball changed a lot of things. I don’t think she can act that way. It’s not nice at all. We are going to be on the tour for so long. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a tennis match.”

Said Serena Williams: “Every time I see her play a match, she always argues about almost every call. I didn’t think she would change her tactic against me. If she didn’t do that, then I would have been a little surprised.”

The other member of the Williams family, Venus, had little trouble in her fourth-round match, taking the first 11 points and also nearing hitting her opponent with a wild shot in a 6-1, 6-3 victory against Henrieta Nagyova of Slovakia in 65 minutes. Eighth-seeded Venus Williams, will face top-seeded Martina Hingis of Switzerland in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

Hingis advanced in straight sets, as did No. 2 Lindsay Davenport, and No. 6 Monica Seles. The match between No. 7 Conchita Martinez of Spain and No. 10 Iva Majoli of Croatia will be completed today. It was stopped because of darkness after the players split sets.

History was made in a men’s third-round match when No. 14 Alex Corretja of Spain defeated Hernan Gumy of Argentina, 6-1, 5-7, 6-7 (7-4), 7-5, 9-7 in 5 hours 31 minutes, the longest Grand Slam singles match on record. The match resumed Sunday after being suspended because of rain Saturday with Gumy leading two sets to one and facing a break point and set point.

“It’s tough. He’s a really good guy,” Corretja said. “I felt sorry for him because I know how bad he can feel.”

The favorite Marcelo Rios of Chile, who is the No. 3-seeded player, had a difficult time against Albert Costa of Spain in a fourth-round match, winning, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in 2 hours 38 minutes.

Rios needed treatment throughout, first to help him breathe in the second set, later for his right thigh injury.

“It was tough to breathe,” he said. “We started fast. We started running too much from the beginning. Maybe my body didn’t get accustomed.”

A tactical change also helped Rios.

“I was playing too far behind the baseline,” he said. “If I stepped more into the court, I had more chances, play shorter points. From the baseline, he didn’t miss.”

Today’s Featured Matches

UNFINISHED

Conchita Martinez (7) was tied with Iva Majoli (10) at one set each; Jana Novotna (3) led Anna Kournikova (13) 4-2 in third set; Both matches were called because of darkness.

REGULARLY SCHEDULED

Marat Safin vs. Cedric Pioline, Alex Corretja (14) vs. Jason Stoltenberg; Alberto Berasategui (16) vs. Hicham Arazi.