Martina Hingis tried to tell a room full of dubious journalists that 27-year-old Mary Joe Fernandez was going to give 10th-seeded Serena Williams a difficult test Friday, perhaps even defeat the muscular 17-year-old.
Oh, that Hingis. There she goes again.
Hours later, Hingis looked like a prophet when Williams unraveled in a string of errors and lost, 6-3, 1-6, 6-0, to Fernandez in a third-round match at the French Open. Then she was booed and whistled off Center Court after she took a solid whack with her racket at her courtside chair.
It was her most solid contact on a day when she committed 42 unforced errors.
Other than Williams’ departure, the only other upset on the women’s side came when Sylvia Plischke of Austria defeated countrywoman and 15th-seeded Barbara Schett, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4.
“It’s really difficult because in all actuality I had planned on doing very well here, even taking the title,” said Williams, who lost in the fourth round here last year. “I never even dreamed in my wildest nightmares that I would have gone out in the third round.”
Williams also exited in the third round in the last Grand Slam event, losing to Sandrine Testud of France after holding two match points at the Australian Open in January. Those days were supposed to be a thing of the past as Williams went on a 16-match winning streak after Melbourne.
But the Open Gaz de France, Indian Wells and Lipton are not Grand Slam events. Experience is invaluable when it comes to a higher level of competition, and Fernandez has played the French Open 13 times, reaching the final in 1993.
“I’ve been playing a long time too,” Williams said. “I’ve been playing a year, two years now. I have a little experience under my belt.”
To put it in perspective, Williams was 3 years old when Fernandez played the French Open for the first time, in 1985, at 13.
“There was no excuse for the way I played today, really,” Williams said. “I should have been taken off the court and immediately asked to leave the facilities, never to return again.”
Williams had not played Fernandez before and probably knew more of her as a television commentator on ESPN because she missed the French Open last year as well as two other Grand Slam events.
On Friday, Fernandez--who had wrist surgery in 1997-- showed she is not quite ready to leave the court for the broadcast booth. She played a composed match, mixing the pace and hitting out on crucial points, moving Williams around the court at will in the first and third sets.
“I’ve had some good wins this year, but definitely this is the best win I’ve had all year,” Fernandez said.
She has been close to breaking through, falling to Steffi Graf in three sets at the Australian Open. Fernandez picked up some confidence by defeating Anna Kournikova earlier this month at the German Open in Berlin and reaching the semifinals in Strasbourg, France, pulling her ranking up to 37th.
Hingis checked out the situation personally, working out against Fernandez in the morning and issued her assessment.
“It is going to be quite tough,” Hingis said. “She [Fernandez] wouldn’t miss a ball. I give her a good chance against Serena because she’s from the older generation but a very smart player. I think Serena has to play a very good match against her today.”
That didn’t happen. And Williams was her toughest critic, albeit in a joking manner after the bitterness of the loss eased.
“I’m no longer worthy of being in the news,” she said.
ADAPTABLE: Britain’s Greg Rusedski, more at home on fast surfaces, surprisingly has reached fourth round on clay courts of Roland Garros. Page 5
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