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Graf expected to put hurt on women's field WIMBLEDON


WIMBLEDON, England -- Her right wrist aches, her back could give out at any time and she hasn't won a grass-court match in two years.

So, of course, Steffi Graf, the five-time champion, is the overwhelming favorite to claim the Wimbledon women's title.

With Martina Navratilova out of the Wimbledon singles draw for the first time since 1972, Graf is expected to carry the show this year. She'll even add a little spice to the doubles, teaming with Navratilova, who is here to plug a mystery novel and work as a television commentator.

Graf's first-round match tomorrow against Martina Hingis, 14, could be one of the few highlights before the semifinals. Last year, Graf was bounced in the first round by Lori McNeil. But don't expect another quick exit. Graf-Hingis involves more style than substance, because Graf wiped out Hingis in a match earlier this year.

Jana Novotna, the No. 4 seed, looms as Graf's semifinal rival. Unfortunately for Novotna, Wimbledon was the scene of her most bitter defeat, when she led 4-1 in the third set and collapsed against Graf in the 1993 final.

Reigning women's champion Conchita Martinez, the No. 3 seed, appears favored to gain the other final slot.

"I was surprised to win last year," Martinez said. "I didn't expect to win my first Grand Slam event on grass."

Martinez is in the bottom of a less-than-daunting draw. No. 2 Aranxta Sanchez Vicario never has advanced past the Wimbledon quarterfinals. No. 3 Mary Pierce never has played Wimbledon and has been inactive much of the spring. And No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini has a second serve so slow its speed on the radar gun wouldn't even draw a traffic ticket.

There still could be some intrigue in the early rounds.

Lindsay Davenport, the No. 7 seed, faces a terrifying first-round match against Gigi Fernandez, a semifinalist last year. McNeil, Zina Garrison-Jackson and Lisa Raymond also could pop out of the bottom half of the draw.

Chanda Rubin reached the Eastbourne final, where she pulled her stomach muscle. But if she is healthy, she could pull off surprises.

Lutherville's Pam Shriver has drawn qualifier Lindsay Lee in the first round. A win by Shriver could set up a second-round meeting with No. 10 Natalia Zvereva. If she really gets on a roll, Shriver could meet Graf in the round of 16.

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