Friendly win anything but easy for Fernandez


WIMBLEDON, England -- They did not want to be here. Lindsay Davenport couldn't hit one shot in anger. Mary Joe Fernandez couldn't bear to play the last set.

But someone had to win yesterday's fourth-round match between friends to become the last American woman left standing at Wimbledon.

And the winner was Fernandez, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1.

"It was a lot more difficult than I expected it to be," Fernandez said. "It's hard playing a good friend. You go out there and you're a little nervous and you don't get too excited when you're winning. And you know you don't get too down when you're losing.

"So, it's strange," Fernandez said. "It's not a common feeling that you have out there. And you know it's happening on the other side of the net, too. So that makes it tough, too."

The day before the match, they practiced side by side, they talked over tour business, they had lunch together. Then yesterday, in the locker room, they came down with pre-match nerves.

"Before the match, we were saying, 'This doesn't feel good. We don't like this,' " Davenport said. "Then, I said, 'I can't breathe.' And she goes, 'I can't, either.' "

At times, the match was excruciating to watch. Neither player had a killer instinct. Neither player wanted to punish the other. Because they had practiced in the two weeks leading to Wimbledon, the players also could anticipate nearly every shot. And when it was over, all they could do was hug on the court and cry in the locker room.

The first thing Fernandez told Davenport was a simple, "I'm sorry."

"We are two nice people who did not want to do this to each other," Davenport said.

"I'm a little drained from the whole thing. I know it feels bad to lose."

It even felt pretty lousy to win.

This should have been a delightful occasion for Fernandez, who has overcome her usual assortment of illnesses and injuries to reach the final eight at Wimbledon for the second time. Instead, she couldn't celebrate.

"The last game was a little sad," Fernandez said. "It's like I wanted to win and this is a huge opportunity, but at the same time, I didn't want her to lose. So it was mixed feelings."

There will be no mixed feelings in her next match, though. In today's quarterfinals, Fernandez meets No. 1 Steffi Graf, a 6-0, 6-1 winner over Ines Gorrochategui.

"Well, Steffi is probably the toughest opponent I could face," Fernandez said. "But you know, I'm looking forward to it, and, hopefully, I can keep playing a little better, take my chances and play aggressively. We'll see what happens."

Davenport said she would like to see Fernandez win. But she isn't making any bold predictions on behalf of her friend.

"I think she is going to have a pretty tough time to beat Steffi," Davenport said. "This is Steffi's favorite surface. The ball stays low. She serves well. Mary is going to have to do some unbelievable things to win."

Most of the other top seeds took bumpy paths to victory. No. 2 Aranxta Sanchez Vicario lost the first four games of her match to No. 9 Anke Huber, but won, 7-5, 6-4. Sanchez Vicario next plays hard-serving Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, the No. 15 seed, who defeated Yayuk Basuki, 6-3, 6-1.

No. 4 Jana Novotna defeated Nicole Bradtke, 6-0, 5-7, 6-4. Novotna's quarterfinal opponent is Kimiko Date, who struggled over Mariaan De Swardt, 6-1, 2-6, 6-2.

No. 3 Conchita Martinez defeated qualifier Petra Kamstra, 6-2, 6-3. Martinez and No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini are paired in what looms as the most competitive of the quarterfinals.

But Sabatini barely got past American Lisa Raymond, who was up 3-0 in the final set, served for the match and got within two points of victory, but lost, 6-0, 3-6, 7-5.

"I choked big-time," said Raymond, who tossed her shoes in anger in the locker room.

Sabatini said she was just happy to make it through to the final eight.

"I didn't really think that I was going to lose," she said.

Can she beat the reigning champion, Martinez?

"It's going to be a great match," Sabatini said. "What else can I say? I have to be very aggressive and take a lot of risks."

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