Pierce Beats Wimbledon Champ Sharapova

Sunday, September 5th 2004, 11:48 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Maria Sharapova's drive to win another Grand Slam title got dashed Saturday when tennis' newest ``It'' girl lost to Mary Pierce 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the third round of the U.S. Open.

The 17-year-old Wimbledon winner lost the final five games, worn down a bit by her third straight three-set match. Sharapova hurt herself with 14 double-faults, including two in the game when Pierce broke her to take a 5-3 lead in the final set.

The seventh-seeded Russian wore a black ribbon on the front of her dress, in memory of the more than 340 people _ nearly half of them children _ killed in a hostage-taking in her country this week.

``There are a lot more important things going on in the world than my loss,'' Sharapova said. ``It's just an example of what can happen in life and that my loss doesn't mean anything.''

The 29-year-old Pierce, a former Australian Open and French Open champion, kneeled down near her changeover chair after it was over.

``Just a little prayer. Thanks for this opportunity,'' she said.

Little Olivier Rochus pulled off another big surprise, ousting third-seeded Carlos Moya 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-5 to reach the fourth round.

At only 5-foot-5, Rochus was the shortest man in the men's draw and no match for Moya's power. But the Belgian played with spirit, bouncing all over the court and winning 35 points on the 39 times he charged the net.

When it was over and they met to shake hands, Rochus looked square into the 6-foot-3 Moya's chest and congratulated the man who swept him in straight sets at the Olympics last month.

``For me, that was the greatest win in my career,'' Rochus said. ``That was the best, for everything _ the game, the crowd.''

Moya became the highest-seeded player on either side to lose this week. Ranked 100th and with a career losing record, Rochus had never won in four previous appearances at Flushing Meadows before this week.

``He never won?'' Moya said. ``He's been doing very well this tournament so far. I would like to be in his position.''

Otherwise, the top players advanced in straight sets, including Justine Henin-Hardenne, Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi and Tim Henman.

Henin-Hardenne beat Lisa Raymond 6-4, 6-3, Davenport got past No. 26 Elena Bovina 7-6 (7), 6-2, and Williams defeated No. 20 Chanda Rubin 7-6 (4), 6-3 at night.

``This is one of the first times in a year that I've felt normal on the court. It's been so challenging,'' said 2000-01 Open champ Williams, who missed the 2003 tournament with an abdominal strain. ``Today is the first day that I started to feel like I did before I was injured.''

No. 5 Henman outlasted Czech qualifier Michal Tabara 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, while Federer's 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 (7) victory over No. 31 Fabrice Santoro put him in the round of 16 for the fourth straight year.

Agassi, aiming for his third Open title, downed Jiri Novak 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Agassi's only trouble came with his right shoe _ he took a minute to glue his sole back into place after it appeared to tear away.

``This week has been relatively uneventful for me, which is the way you want it,'' Agassi said.

Agassi's next opponent will be Sargis Sargsian, who erased a two-set deficit and saved two match points to beat Paul-Henri Mathieu 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (4) in 4 hours, 41 minutes. Add in his second-round upset of No. 10 Nicolas Massu _ at 5:09, the second-longest match in tournament history _ and Sargsian broke the record for longest consecutive Open matches.

``I don't know how I did it,'' said Sargsian, an Armenian ranked 54th.

Federer has won three of the past five majors. In 2004, his 61-6 record and tour-leading eight titles include the Australian Open and Wimbledon. In 1988, Mats Wilander won the Australian, French and U.S. Opens, losing only in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

``Many guys have the chance to beat me. It's not getting easier from here,'' he said.

``Maybe I've had a very dominant season so far, but I always look at it this way _ it's a new match, it's a new day,'' he said. ``I have to again prove myself. I don't think about who's going to stop me.''

Federer finished with 56 winners to just 37 miscues, an impressive ratio. In comparison, Santoro had 16 winners, 27 errors. Federer erased the only break point he faced, while breaking the Frenchman four times.

``He's capable of beating everybody at every tournament. The way he's playing now, he doesn't have to be scared of anyone. He wasn't scared of me,'' Santoro said.

It's the fourth straight year Federer has made the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows, but he's never been past that stage. To get to a possible quarterfinal showdown against Agassi, Federer will have to beat No. 16 Andrei Pavel.

Also on the men's side, Pavel topped Lee Hyung-taik 6-4, 6-2, 1-6, 1-6, 6-4; No. 22 Dominik Hrbaty beat No. 15 Paradorn Srichaphan 7-6 (8), 6-3, 6-3; and No. 19 Nicolas Kiefer beat Thomas Johansson 6-4, 6-0, 6-1.

On the women's side, Shinobu Asagoe eliminated No. 13 Paola Suarez, a French Open semifinalist, 6-4, 6-4; No. 14 Nadia Petrova defeated Silvia Farina Elia 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3); and No. 29 Eleni Daniilidou beat Anna Chakvetadze 6-4, 6-2.