WIMBLEDON, England -- The rain that had come in dribs and drabs on several previous days at Wimbledon, came again yesterday, forcing No. 1 seed Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis to spend nearly as much time in the locker room between points as they did on Centre Court.
Twice, play was called in their match. The players gathered their rackets and bags and walked calmly off the court, their heads down, sheltering from the weather, as the grounds crew did their work.
But neither the delays of 30 and 15 minutes nor Hingis, the 15-year-old who is the only player to beat Graf in a tournament this year, bothered Graf. She overwhelmed the No. 16 seed, 6-1, 6-4, in 50 minutes.
"I think, obviously, that I was on top of her right from the beginning," said Graf. "And I think I didn't want to give her a chance to get into the match. I wanted to go for my shots right from the beginning and that's exactly what I was doing."
The dominance was a disappointment for the crowd, which had hoped, finally, to see a good, competitive women's match. This result again raised the question: Can anyone keep the 27-year-old Graf from her seventh Wimbledon title?
If Graf gets No. 7, she will move ahead of Helen Wills-Moody, with whom she is tied with 19 Grand Slam titles. And she will be within striking distance of Margaret Court's 23. And even the nine Wimbledon singles titles of Martina Navratilova are not out of reach.
Speaking of Navratilova, Graf was finally asked if she had any hard feelings toward the HBO commentator who had questioned Graf's recent knee injury -- "Just an excuse in case she needs it for later," Navratilova said.
"She's lucky she doesn't have to live with them [injuries]," said Graf. "I think she should know better than to say these things and, actually, we saw each other in the locker room two days ago. She said she was sorry the way it was put, and she didn't really mean how she said it. So that's all I can say to that."
Though play was abbreviated by the weather, leading officials to decide to start play two hours early today, the women were able to complete their fourth-round matches.
No. 4 seed, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario had some difficulty early with unseeded Sabine Appelmans, but pulled through, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1. Afterward, Sanchez-Vicario said, "I think I was overconfident. . . . at 2-0 in the second set, I reacted and stopped doing so many mistakes and started to move the ball around."
No. 12 seed Kimiko Date upset No. 3 and past champion Conchita Martinez, 5-7, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, in what was the best women's match of the day. Despite the upset, Date was not feeling confident.
"I think the grass court is not my favorite surface," she said through an interpreter. "But Wimbledon is special for me and I really want to win here. It is true I'm now through to the last eight, but to be honest, I just don't feel that much confidence on this grass."
Winning in straight sets were No. 13 Mary Pierce, playing her first Wimbledon, and No. 6 seed Jana Novotna. No. 9 seed Mary Joe Fernandez ousted Ai Sugiyama in three sets.
Today's feature matches
' (Seeds in parentheses)
Men: Pete Sampras (1), Tampa, Fla., vs. Cedric Pioline (16), France. Michael Stich (10), Germany, vs. Richard Krajicek, Netherlands.
Women: Steffi Graf (1), Germany, vs. Jana Novotna (6), Czech Republic. Kimiko Date (12), Japan, vs. Mary Pierce (13), France. Judith Wiesner, Austria, vs. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (4), Spain. Mary Joe Fernandez (9), Key Biscayne, Fla., vs. Meredith McGrath, Midland, Mich.
Pub Date: 7/02/96