Hingis takes big step at AT-and-T Cup

Friday, August 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MONTREAL (AP) _ Martina Hingis took another encouraging step on her comeback from an ankle injury with a 6-4, 6-2 victory Thursday over Clarisa Fernandez at the Rogers AT-and-T Cup.

It was a second victory for the former world No. 1 from Switzerland at the dlrs 1.224-million hardcourt event, her first tournament since returning from surgery in May to repair damaged ligaments in her left ankle.

``It was definitely an improvement from my first match, a much better level,'' said Hingis, who looked rusty in beating Spain's Magui Serna on Tuesday. ``Sometimes it still feels a little funny being out there, but it's getting better every match.''

Earlier in the day, the 21-year-old Hingis learned she had been granted a wildcard entry she had requested to play in the U.S. Open, the last of the four Grand Slam tournaments that begins Aug. 26 in New York.

Hingis, the sixth seeded player, advanced to Friday's quarterfinals, where she'll meet third-seeded Jelena Dokic of Yugoslavia, who defeated American Alexandra Stevenson 1-6, 7-5, 6-1.

``She hasn't played in a long time so she's probably not at her best yet,'' Dokic said of Hingis, who has won 40 WTA Tour events in her eight-year career, including five grand slams. ``It will be interesting to see how well she plays.''

Hingis also had surgery on torn ligaments in her right ankle last October and is suing her former shoe supplier over the injuries, which ended her hold on the No. 1 ranking.

She now faces the daunting challenge of trying to win it back from the powerful Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, who are ranked first and second, respectively.

Perhaps more importantly, the sisters dominate with a hard-hitting game never seen in women's tennis before and which might prove difficult for a finesse player like Hingis.

``The Williams sisters have overtaken tennis right now, so I don't know if Hingis can come back,'' added Dokic, who is ranked a career-high fifth. ``I still think she will have trouble with the big hitters.

``It will be hard for her to get back to No. 1.''

But Hingis was conceding nothing.

``I've played them in the past and we were quite equal,'' replied Hingis. ``I try to do the best I can against everybody.''

Jennifer Capriati wasn't about to be surprised by Japan's Ai Sugiyama two weeks in a row.

Beaten in straight sets by Sugiyama at a tournament in Los Angeles last week, Capriati responded with a 6-1, 7-5 victory Thursday, advancing to the quarterfinals of this dlrs 1.224 million Rogers AT-and-T Cup.

``Last time, I was tired physically and she kind of caught me off-guard,'' Capriati said. ``This time, I was ready for her.

``I was ready to give it all I've got, so I was more confident.''

After Capriati breezed through the first set, Sugiyama took a 5-2 lead in the second.

But Capriati came back.

``She moves really well and she's a good counter-puncher,'' Capriati said. ``When you think you've got a point won, she'll battle back, so you have to be patient.''

While Capriati was winning, fourth-seeded Kim Clijsters of Belgium was upset 6-4, 6-4 by Barbara Schett of Austria.

Schett, who on Wednesday ousted Chanda Rubin, the winner of last week's Los Angeles event, advanced to a quarterfinal meeting with eighth-seeded Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, a 6-1, 6-3 winner over Amanda Coetzer of South Africa.

Also on Thursday, No. 5 Justine Henin of Belgium defeated Francesca Schiavone of Italy, 6-3, 7-6 (2), seventh-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France battled for a 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-5) victory over qualifier Laura Granville of the United States, and, Fabiola Zuluaga of Colombia defeated Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain, 6-3, 6-2.

Granville had 6-4 and 7-6 leads in the first-set tiebreaker but wasted three set points.

``Mentally, it's good to win that set,'' said Mauresmo, clearly the crowd favorite. ``To lose it would not have been good at all.

``When you enter a tournament like this, you know you're going to face a lot of good players and lower-ranked players who really want to beat you.''

Hantuchova had a good scouting report because her coach, Nigel Sears, formerly coached Coetzer.

``He knew her as well as I do,'' said Hantuchova. ``We talked about tactics and how to play against her because he has a lot of experience with her.''