Hingis back in French quarters, defeats Peer
PARIS ” If it all seems so long ago, that’s because it was. Five years since Martina Hingis was last in the French Open quarterfinals, seven years since she was a sobbing, petulant mess while losing in the final of the only major she hasn’t won.
Back on tour after a three-year injury hiatus, Hingis suddenly is a title contender again, playing all the right angles and flashing that familiar wry smile Monday as she wrapped up a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 victory over No. 31 Shahar Peer in the fourth round.
“It’s a new year,” Hingis said, “new Roland Garros.”
Now comes a true test for the new Hingis: A quarterfinal Tuesday against No. 2 Kim Clijsters, the reigning U.S. Open champion and twice a runner-up at the French Open.
Hingis’ match against Peer was halted Sunday after two sets because of fading light, so their best-of-one-set turn Monday was a tad anticlimactic ” as was men’s fourth-round action, for the most part.
Rafael Nadal, the defending champion, lugged an 0-3 career record against two-time major winner Lleyton Hewitt into their encounter, but those previous meetings were all on hard courts, and all before Nadal emerged as a star.
Nadal’s 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory was his 57th consecutive win on clay and moved him closer to a possible showdown in the final against Roger Federer, who’s trying to become the first man since 1969 to win four Slams in a row.
Nadal, Hewitt said, is “very much like Federer, winning so many matches that it’s sort of second nature for him. They get down break point, and they expect to get out of it.”
Nadal’s quarterfinal foe will be Novak Djokovic of Serbia-Montenegro, who eliminated fellow 19-year-old Gael Monfils of France 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-3.
The Parisians were sad to see the animated Monfils go, but they do have a countryman left to support: Julien Benneteau, who reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal when Alberto Martin of Spain quit in the first set because his back locked up. Benneteau will face No. 4 Ivan Ljubicic, a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 winner over Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo of Spain.
“It’s physically probably the most demanding Grand Slam, but I think of myself as one of the fittest players on tour,” Ljubicic said.
The grind of playing on clay hasn’t affected Hingis yet. She left the tour in 2002 after a series of injuries and operations to her feet and ankles, and Tuesday will represent a fifth consecutive day on court for a woman enjoying a renaissance at age 25.
“Now I can kind of survive a lot of things. It doesn’t matter what’s coming up next,” said the 12th-seeded Hingis, who was ranked No. 1 when she was 16. “I really don’t care if I have to play now every day anymore, because I know I’ve come up with good tennis every day.”
Still confident after all these years, huh?
Eight of her 10 losses this season have been to women who’ve won majors, including Clijsters in the Australian Open. But as Hingis pointed out: “I’ve made a lot of improvements since Australia. Everything pretty much was new. I was happy to win the first round.”
Expectations are much higher these days, in part because the muscle memory from her five Grand Slam titles is all the way back. She won the Italian Open last month for the first title of her comeback, and was steely as ever against Peer, mixing in four drop shots to end points.
“Martina was playing unbelievable today,” said Peer, who was hoping to become the first Israeli woman or man to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. “She had, I think, very few mistakes. In the big points, she had no mistakes.”
A championship in Paris might help erase any bitterness left over from 1999, when Hingis lost a rancorous final to Steffi Graf.
Hingis was jeered for cracking her racket, for questioning calls, for walking around the net to examine a mark ” a real faux pas. She was booed for hitting an underhand serve, booed when she lost, and booed some more when, crying uncontrollably, she was escorted by her mother to the trophy presentation.
“I survived it well,” Hingis said Monday, “and I think I’ve matured over the years.”
The biggest intrigue heading into Monday centered on Nadal vs. Hewitt. More specifically: Could Hewitt’s grind-it-out style give Nadal fits? Would Nadal dare to munch on bananas after nearly choking during his previous match?
“I ate more carefully than usual,” Nadal said with a smile.
As for Hewitt, Nadal dispatched him by repeatedly finding the lines, compiling a 15-4 edge in winners in the first set. In the third, Nadal broke for a 5-4 lead with a backhand slice that skimmed the net, plopped on the sideline and skidded sideways, out of reach.
“Wasn’t a whole heap I could do about it,” Hewitt said.
The tireless Australian kept things close for the better part of 2 hours, winning 11 points in a row at one point. After all, as Nadal put it: “Hewitt is someone who, when you let him grab a finger, he takes the arm.”
But, eventually, as happens to most of Nadal’s opponents, Hewitt wore down, double-faulting five times in the final set.
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