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Graf, Davenport Win, Venus Out

Seven-time champion Steffi Graf neutralized the power hitting of Venus Williams to win in three sets today and reach the semifinals on another rainy day at Wimbledon.

Graf, who is two short of Martina Navratilova's record of nine singles titles, overcame Williams 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in a compelling Centre Court duel that included four rain delays.

"Considering the number of (rain) breaks we had, it was unbelievable tennis today," Graf said.

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  • Also advancing was Lindsay Davenport, who ousted defending champion Jana Novotna 6-3, 6-4 to qualify for the semifinals for the first time in her career.

    The Graf-Williams match resumed in fading light at 7:40 p.m. with the 19-year-old American ahead 2-1 on serve in the third set.

    The turning point came in the fifth game when Graf, applying pressure on every shot, broke for a 3-2 lead. After a furious corner-to-corner rally, Graf converted with a forehand winner.

    Graf saved three break points in the next games as Williams blew a simple forehand volley that would have evened the match.

    The players remained on serve the rest of the way, with Graf converting on her first match point. When Williams hit a forehand wide, Graf hopped up and down, punched the air and let out a scream of delight.

    Steffi Graf celebrates her 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Venus Williams.
    Steffi Graf celebrates her 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Venus Williams. (AP)

    The match, which ended at 8:10 p.m., lasted 1 hour, 52 minutes of actual playing time. But, because of the rain delays, there were 7 hours and 7 minutes between the first and last points of the match.

    The match featured some sparkling rallies and spectacular shots by both players. While Williams tried to dictate the match with her big groundstrokes, Graf ran down most of the shots and hit them back just as hard.

    Showing her greateexperience, especially on grass, Graf mixed up her game and threw in some drop shots to keep Williams guessing. She also staved off a number of key break points with attacking play.

    Graf said it was the best she ever had to play to get to the Wimbledon semifinals, which she has now reached 10 times in her career.

    "It rarely happens in the quarterfinal to play that kind of tennis," she said. "I played very aggressive on the break points. I told myself I wanted to go for my shots and not be tentative."

    Venus Williams was sent running all over the court in her quarterfinal loss to Steffi Graf. <b>
    Venus Williams was sent running all over the court in her quarterfinal loss to Steffi Graf. (AP)

    The two other women's quarterfinals were suspended and will resume Friday.

    In a battle of two qualifiers, 18-year-old Alexandra Stevenson won the first set 6-3 against 16-year-old Australian Jelena Dokic but trailed 5-1 in the second.

    No woman qualifier has ever made it to the semifinals, but either Stevenson or Dokic will this year.

    In the other women's quarterfinal, Nathalie Tauziat led Mirjana Lucic 6-4, 3-3.

    In men's play, Patrick Rafter and Todd Martin were tied 3-3 in the first set, and Tim Henman was up 1-0 against Cedric Pioline.

    Two other men's matches had yet to begin: five-time champion Pete Sampras vs. Mark Philippoussis, and Andre Agassi vs. Gustavo Kuerten.

    After a first week of ideal weather, most of Monday's schedule was rained out and all of Tuesday's matches were lost.

    A light, misty drizzle repeatedly forced play to be suspended today, raising the prospect of the tournament being extended into a third week.

    The forecast called for clear skies Friday but a return of wet weather over the weekend.

    Organizers scheduled the remainder of the quarterfinals for Friday. That means the men's and women's semis will be Saturday and both finals Sunday weather permitting.

    The last time both finals were played on Sunday was in 1989 when Boris Becker and Graf were the champions. The last time the tournament dragged into a third week was in 1996 when the women's doubles final was played on Monday.

    Graf was firmly in control of the first set, breaking Williams twice to win in 32 minutes. But Williams stormed back in the second, breaking for 3-2 and winning five out of six games to force the decisive third.

    Said Williams: "I could have played better, especially on some key points. I should have been more aggressive on the break points."

    Graf said she is convinced Williams will be No. 1 some day.

    "She has the game and she's got the physique," Graf said. "Se can do a lot of things out there. She moves incredibly well. She got some balls I thought were over."

    Both players said they had no objections to resuming the match so late in the day. And neither player seemed particularly affected by the rain delays.

    "I don't think it made such a huge difference," Williams said. "`Obviously she's been through a lot more rain delays than I've ever dreamed of. Every day is an experience."

    Lindsay Davenport moved her career record against Jana Novotna to 6-0 with Thursday's victory.
    Lindsay Davenport moved her career record against Jana Novotna to 6-0 with Thursday's victory. (AP)

    The 23-year-old Davenport, who can reclaim the world's No. 1 ranking by reaching the semifinals, had reached the Wimbledon quarters twice previously (1994 and 1998) but never made it to the last four.

    Novotna, who won the title last year after two defeats in the final, was playing in her 14th Wimbledon. At age 30, she may not have many more chances to win again.

    "Did she play her best tennis?" Davenport said. "Probably not. But maybe because I didn't let her."

    Davenport extended her career record to 6-0 against Novotna. But this was their first match on grass, Novotna's favorite surface. Their five previous matches had been on hard courts or indoors.

    "My grass court game is getting better every year," Davenport said. "I wanted to break through the quarterfinal jinx. Getting to the quarters and then losing, I wanted to get over that. To get to the semis and beat the best grass court player is huge."

    ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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