Defending champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario saved one match point with a crazy carom off her racket frame, then her luck ran out.
A finalist in all the other Grand Slam events this year, and six of the last seven, Sanchez Vicario drove two backhands long to give Mary Joe Fernandez a 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory Sunday night and a berth in the quarterfinals.
Fernandez slipped the noose of an apparent straight-sets loss, escaping from a 4-2 deficit in the second set, and kept slugging winners on long rallies to beat the No. 3 seed.
Some of the longest of those rallies came in the final set, and on one of the most important Sanchez Vicario saved match point with a spinning lob that flew off the edge of her racket for a winner.
“She shanked that,” Fernandez said. “I said, ‘Oh, no.’ Believe it or not, I thought of that (1989) match when (Boris) Becker played (Derrick) Rostagno when the ball hit the net and it went over. I go, ‘Oh, this is great, she’s going to win the tournament.’ But I hung in there and fortunately got through.”
Sanchez Vicario kissed her racket, but it was more like a kiss of death.
She struck a backhand long for match point again, then sailed one more just past the baseline to go out of the Open faster than any defending champion since Hana Mandlikova departed in the same fourth round 1986. Monica Seles did not defend the title she won in 1992.
“The only chance I had was to come in and take chances,” said Fernandez, who forced the action by alternating strong baseline strokes with charges to the net. “I never gave up. I persevered in the second set, even though I was down a break.
“I feel a little bit fortunate to be alive in this tournament. The first day I could have been out. I’ve had tough matches throughout the week, and they’re going to get tougher.”
Fernandez, who played a three-setter in the first round, next plays Gabriela Sabatini.
“I didn’t finish the match when I had a chance to,” said Sanchez Vicario, who missed 17 of 26 breakpoint opportunities. “I was playing very well at the beginning, then my balls were getting short. She played great.
Steffi Graf and Sabatini made quick work of two heavily hyped teens for whom Grand Slam stardom is still a fuzzy dream.
As precocious as Chanda Rubin and Martina Hingis are, they have neither one big weapon nor the consistency yet to beat the top players in major tournaments.
Graf swept into the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over 19-year-old Rubin, and Sabatini contented herself playing from the baseline to wear down 14-year-old Hingis 6-2, 6-4.
The German next plays Amy Frazier, who followed her upset of No. 6 Mary Pierce by beating No. 12 Natasha Zvereva 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
A drumbeat of 42 aces and heavy groundstrokes echoed from one end of the court to the other as Pete Sampras survived an attack by a younger, bigger, stronger version of himself in the finest match of power tennis so far at the Open.
Sampras, who thumped 27 of those aces, saw his own image in 18-year-old Mark Philippoussis - nicknamed Scud because of the speed of his missiles - and barely avoided an upset with a 6-7 (7-5), 7-5, 7-5, 6-3 victory that took nearly three hours.
Philippoussis, a 6-foot-4 Australian who shares Sampras’ Greek ancestry, brought back memories of Sampras when he won the first of his two Open titles at 19 five years ago. It could be seen not only in Philippoussis’ serves but in his leaping overheads, his crushing forehands and backhands, his killer volleys and fearless play.
When Philippoussis slammed a second-serve ace into the corner to take the tiebreaker in the first set, a roar rumbled through the packed stadium at the prospect of an upset by a young player the fans didn’t know. They know him now and will not soon forget him.
“I didn’t know where he liked to serve on the big points,” Sampras said. “I didn’t know where his second serve was going. His second serve is the biggest one I ever played. I never saw a player do that. He goes for 90-95 mph, and he’s making it. I didn’t know whether to chip or come over it. His serve is so big, I had a hard time reading it. He’s very dangerous.”
Sampras next plays another big server, Todd Martin, in the fourth round.
In other men’s third-round matches, No. 3 Thomas Muster beat Francisco Clavet 0-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5; No. 5 Michael Chang stopped Todd Woodbridge 6-3, 6-2, 6-0; No. 8 Michael Stich defeated Scott Draper 6-3, 6-0, 6-3; No. 12 Richard Krajicek lost to Michael Tebbutt 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4); No. 14 Jim Courier downed Kenneth Carlsen 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; and No. 15 Todd Martin beat Mauricio Hadad 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Sunday’s glance Highlights of Sunday’s play at the $9.86 million U.S. Open: Results: Men’s singles, third round: No. 3 Thomas Muster, No. 8 Michael Stich and No. 15 Todd Martin advanced. Women’s singles, fourth round: No. 1 Steffi Graf and No. 9 Gabriela Sabatini advanced. Stat of the Day: Thomas Muster won one less point than Francisco Clavet in his four-set victory. Muster won 105 points, Clavet 106. Quote of the Day: “I don’t know. I wasn’t there.” - Muster on his 6-0 loss to Clavet in the first set.
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