WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — WIMBLEDON, England -- Meredith McGrath, her face shining with a freshness born of many Swiss hikes and bike rides, seemed to glow as she walked off Court No. 2 yesterday after upsetting No. 9 seed Mary Joe Fernandez to become the only unseeded woman in tomorrow's Wimbledon semifinals.
In a battle between Americans on the court known as the graveyard for seeded players, the lesser-known McGrath virtually overwhelmed two-time quarterfinalist Fernandez, who seemed to be struggling with back and leg pain, though she would not comment on it.
"I can't say I expected to go out and win today," said McGrath, who won in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1. "Certainly I didn't expect to win like that."
She didn't, in fact, expect to be around to win at all.
"I just stopped shaking about five minutes ago," she said. "Coming into this tournament, I never expected it. I mean, it never crossed my mind. I was just hoping to win my first match. But, every match is just another match, really, and I hope to be able to just go into my next match playing the same kind of tennis I've been playing."
Her next match will be against No. 4 seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who ousted another upstart in this tournament, Judith Wiesner, 6-4, 6-0.
In tomorrow's other semifinal, No. 1 seed Steffi Graf, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Jana Novotna, will face No. 12 Kimiko Date, who beat No. 13 Mary Pierce, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
"Meredith is a pretty good player," said Sanchez Vicario, when asked to consider her semifinal match. "She loves to play on grass, so I think she, like me, will try to come to the net. I will have to be ready to make pretty good passing shots. . . . I just have to concentrate on my own game, be more consistent and, hopefully, win that one too."
McGrath, who resides in Zurich, Switzerland, said she enjoys the slower European pace and the ability to spend her free time mountain biking, hiking and skiing.
Asked how Europe can have a slower pace than her home in Midland, Mich., she laughed.
"Oh, my no," she said. "It's dead in Midland."
She is the lone outsider in the semifinal lineup. She is the only unseeded player -- the only player among the women who has to dress in the No. 2 locker room. Only seeded players are allowed in locker room No. 1 at Wimbledon.
"They're pretty excited in there," she said, grinning. "I think we're having a little party later on."
The reason, said Pam Shriver, who is also in No. 2, is that "it's been a long time since anyone in the No. 2 locker room has made it to a Wimbledon singles semifinal."
In 1994, Gigi Fernandez and Lori McNeil were both unseeded, but they were seeded in doubles and therefore got the No. 1 room. Before that, you have to go back eight years to Catarina Lindqvist in 1989.
Some might say McGrath is already the winner here, having come back from a pinched nerve in her hip joint that sidelined her for two years. She came into this tournament ranked No. 27, and no matter what happens now, she will leave with her highest tour ranking ever, besting the No. 25 spot she held just eight months into her pro career in 1990.
McGrath started her pro comeback in 1992 at the Lipton Championships in Miami, but injured her shoulder in her first match. At that point, insiders felt her career was over.
But McGrath kept working, letting nothing interfere. When her parents decided to move from Midland, Mich., to Indianapolis, she remained in Midland with "adoptive family" Bob and Maggie Charlton, so that she could continue to maintain her recovery program.
She finally got back on court in 1993, ranked No. 610. She won two doubles titles that year and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in singles. In 1994, she was Comeback Player of the Year. Last year, she won the U.S. Open Doubles title.
But not until she stepped into the semifinals here yesterday, did she find herself the center of attention.
"For sure this is the biggest thing for my career," said McGrath, 25. "I mean, going into this year, my goal was to get into the top 30 and stay in the top 30. . . . I've been doing pretty well . . . winning a few matches every tournament, so this is sort of a breakthrough."
Yesterday, she hit out, enjoying the moment instead of fearing the consequences.
"It's an honor just to be in the semifinals at Wimbledon," said McGrath. "I don't want to say I'm honored to be in the company of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, because I have to go out and beat her next match. But I know I am fortunate to be here."
Today's feature matches
(Seeds in parentheses)
Men: Pete Sampras (1), Tampa, Fla., vs. Richard Krajicek, Netherlands. Tim Henman, Britain, vs. Todd Martin (13), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Goran Ivanisevic (4), Croatia, vs. Jason Stoltenberg, Australia. MaliVai Washington, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., vs. Alexander Radulescu, Germany.
Mixed: Mark Woodforde, Australia, and Larisa Neiland, Latvia (4) vs. Jeremy Bates, Britain, and Nicole Bradtke, Australia (16). Brian MacPhie, San Jose, Calif., and Tami Whitlinger-Jones, Henderson, Nev., vs. Patrick Galbraith, Seattle, and Pam Shriver (5), Baltimore.
Pub Date: 7/03/96