Graf, Fernandez advance to semifinals


WIMBLEDON, England -- Steffi Graf and Mary Joe Fernandez were safely through to the semifinals. Gabriela Sabatini was smashing around the only working mother remaining in the tournament. Jennifer Capriati and Martina Navratilova were locked in a generational struggle.

And then. . .

It rained.

Tennis-interruptus hit Wimbledon again yesterday just as the women were getting down to the serious business of deciding the championship.

Graf defeated Zina Garrison, 6-1, 6-3, and Fernandez defeated Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-2, 7-5, in the quarterfinals. But two matches couldn't beat the rain.

Sabatini was easily ahead of Laura Gildemeister, 6-2, 1-0, when play was suspended. Sabatini is heavily favored to play for the title while Gildemeister is the surprise visitor in these quarterfinals, an unseeded player with a 3-year-old son named Heinz.

Capriati appeared poised to topple nine-time champion Navratilova. She won the first set, 6-4, but was down 2-3 and a break when the rain hit Wimbledon for the sixth time in the fortnight.

The Graf-Garrison pairing was a rematch, one-year in the making. In 1990 at Wimbledon, Garrison upset Graf in the semifinals en route to a first-ever final appearance. But last year, Graf was clearly distracted. She had sinus problems. Her father was embroiled in a scandal involving a topless model. Her game was frayed.

"I'm a lot healthier," Graf said. "I'm a lot more eager than I was last year. I'm much fitter I think, better concentrated on the court than I was last year. My mind is on the court, and that's what is important."

Graf, who next meets Fernandez, has lost only 17 games in five matches. She is steamrolling her opponents with her usual display of powerful serves and crushing forehands.

"I thought Steffi played extremely well," Garrison said. "I played horrible. I just couldn't serve."

Garrison said Graf doesn't appear any more focused than last year. She said that the former world No. 1 player is simply performing at a higher level.

"I didn't believe in all that stuff about Steffi getting distracted last year," Garrison said. "This year, she is just playing better. She is hungrier. She isn't No. 1 anymore and she wants to get back to the top."

Garrison was disappointed by her Wimbledon experience this year. She expected to receive some recognition for losing in last year's final. Instead, she was shunted off to less glamorous show courts, and virtually ignored by the world media.

"I can never put my finger on it," said Garrison, the first black woman to reach a Wimbledon final since Althea Gibson won a second singles title in 1958. "I've learned over the years you get along by going along."

Fernandez will step into the spotlight for the first time in her career at Wimbledon. After failing to advance past the fourth round three times, Fernandez finally broke through to the semifinals with her first victory over Sanchez Vicario.

Fernandez had some tense moments in the second set. She gave away two match points before losing her serve ninth game, but finally won in the 12th game when Sanchez Vicario punched a forehand into the net.

"I played more aggressive, I think," Fernandez said. "I took more chances and really went for it."

Fernandez said she remained focused, despite losing the first two match points.

"I stayed in the present," she said. "I wasn't upset that I missed an opportunity. I served and volleyed well. I knew I could break her."

Fernandez was doubly delighted yesterday. Her boyfriend David Wheaton reached the men's quarterfinals with a straight set victory over Jan Gunnarson.

But Fernandez tried to downplay her joy and her relationship.

"Please," she said. "Just say we're friends."

Friends who are still alive and well and playing at Wimbledon.

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