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Pierce Trying to Win One for the Ages

Times Staff Writer

Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria wasn’t even born when Mary Pierce turned pro in March 1989. And another rising teen-aged star on the tour, Sania Mirza of India, was all of 8 when Pierce won her first Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open in 1995.

Talk about life at the opposite ends of the tennis spectrum.

Pierce had been a genuine prodigy, turning pro at age 14. Now the 30-year-old is the oldest player of those remaining in the singles draw at the Acura Classic at the La Costa Resort and Spa.

Age has not stopped her from playing her best tennis in years. Pierce reached the French Open final in June, losing to Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, and then lost to eventual champion Venus Williams in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

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“Surprised myself at certain moments, with certain matches with how I’ve beaten some players, definitely,” said the sixth-seeded Pierce, who defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany, 6-1, 6-1, in 62 minutes on Wednesday in the second round.

“I’ve been working really hard for about over a year now. You just never know when the results are going to start coming. You always hope sooner than later.”

Pierce, of France, wasn’t the only player to record a convincing victory on the stadium court here. She was followed by Mirza, an 18-year-old qualifier, who crushed No. 4 Nadia Petrova of Russia, 6-2, 6-1.

Petrova, playing in her first event since Wimbledon, was suffering from a right elbow strain.

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She wasn’t the only seeded player to exit. Former top-10 player Ai Sugiyama of Japan defeated No. 14 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, in two hours 27 minutes.

She has lost to Hantuchova only once in five matches.

The season-long struggles of Vera Zvonareva of Russia continued. Mashona Washington defeated No. 8 Zvonareva, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. The 20-year-old Russian, who was ranked in the top 10 about a year ago, has won three matches in her last five tournaments.

Washington is the lone American remaining after the 15-year-old Karatantcheva defeated Lisa Raymond, 7-6 (6), 6-4.

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“Oh am I? I didn’t know. Go America,” said Washington, smiling.

She will play Karatantcheva today in the round of 16.

Fifth-seeded Patty Schnyder of Switzerland, who squandered five match points in a semifinal loss to Venus Williams on Saturday at Stanford, had another lengthy battle but finished strongly, defeating Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-1, in almost two hours.

The biggest turnaround of the day belonged to Dinara Safina of Russia. Safina beat her countrywoman, qualifier Alina Jidkova, 0-6, 6-1, 6-0.

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In the featured night match, No. 7 Kim Clijsters had little trouble defeating Marta Domachowska of Poland, 6-3, 6-1.

*

Featured matches

Today’s featured matches in the Acura Classic at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad:

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Stadium court (10 a.m.) -- Mashona Washington vs. Sesil Karatantcheva, Bulgaria; Ai Sugiyama, Japan, vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia; Patty Schnyder, Switzerland, vs. Francesca Schiavone, Italy; Jelena Jankovic, Serbia, vs. Kim Clijsters, Belgium.

* Stadium court (7:30 p.m.) -- Nathalie Dechy, France, vs. Mary Pierce, France.


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