Anna Kournikova had hoped that Thursday would be the day she took her embryonic rivalry with fellow teen queen Martina Hingis out of tennis’ locker rooms and onto its best-known court. But on Centre Court, Hingis, the No. 1 ranked Swiss sensation, essentially laughed in her face.
In the battle between 16-year-olds in the first women’s semifinal, Hingis scored yet another triumph over Kournikova, and the 6-3, 6-2 victory made her the youngest Wimbledon finalist in 110 years.
And that match was only the tuneup for Thursday’s real spat - complete with bad blood, snotty remarks and friendship gone sour - which was played out when Jana Novotna and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario met. After spending the eve of their match sniping at each other, the former doubles partners took their fight to the court late in the rain-interrupted day and Novotna had the last word, 6-4, 6-2.
“I am very happy definitely,” said Novotna, who celebrated wildly, and got what looked to be a very quick and cold handshake from Sanchez Vicario at the net. “Today, it was a very difficult match… . I was starting to play better and better as the tournament progressed, and today in the semis I probably played my best tennis.”
Novotna and Sanchez Vicario used to be friends and doubles partners - only two years ago they won the Wimbledon women’s doubles trophy, one of 15 trophies they won. Now, they rarely speak to one another, and when they do, it is often unpleasant.
The friendship unraveled in Atlanta last summer, when Sanchez Vicario beat Novotna in an Olympic semifinal, then seethed as Novotna criticized her talents to reporters. The acrimony boiled over Wednesday, when Novotna talked about how Sanchez Vicario hadn’t played anyone tough in this tournament, and Sanchez Vicario responded by accusing her ex-friend of jealousy.
“She started everything,” Sanchez Vicario said. “She’s the one who did not say nice things. She started everything after I beat her three times last year, and I don’t know what she has against me. I just think that she hates probably to lose against me.”
“She can say whatever she wants,” Sanchez Vicario said later. “The results are there, and when she will win a Grand Slam, then she can talk about it.”
One of Wimbledon’s most memorable losers - she cried on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder after a third-set collapse against Steffi Graf in the 1993 final - Novotna needs one more victory to exercise the privilege of which Sanchez Vicario spoke. Her net game is perfectly suited to Wimbledon’s grass, and it overwhelmed Sanchez Vicario, a baseliner. But Hingis is the game’s smartest player, capable of playing against any style.
“It’s going to be a very interesting contrast, the number one player in the world, and a very young, talented player, against me, a grass-court player,” Novotna said.
The Sweet 16 party that opened Centre Court play was a letdown, given how much promise Kournikova showed in earlier rounds. Even Hingis - who had won in straight sets in all three previous meetings, two in juniors play - was concerned the young Russian might give her more trouble this time.
It never materialized. Hampered by a sore hip, Kournikova played aggressively but wasn’t getting to shots she had reached the previous day, when she ran all over the place to beat Majoli.
The big weakness in Kournikova’s game is her serve. Her first serves were flat and rarely hit the corners, and her second serves were straight from the Hostess factory. Then again neither held serve until Hingis did so in the seventh game of the first set. Kournikova held serve once, in the fifth game of the second set.
“It wasn’t for sure one of my best performances at this tournament,” Hingis said. “She really made some shots, but she also made a lot of errors. I was sometimes waiting for the mistakes.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.