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Top Women Advance At French


Monica Seles and Steffi Graf, who have eight French Open titles between them, both advanced to the round of 16 on Saturday with straight-set victories and were headed for a possible semifinal meeting.

For the players to meet in the semis, Graf would first have to get by No. 2-seeded Lindsay Davenport who also won Saturday.

Seles, who reached the finals last year only three weeks after her father's death but lost to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, has an easier path to the semis, with no seeded players in her way.

She defeated Maria Antonio Sanchez-Lorenzo of Spain, 6-1, 6-4, closing out the match with an overhead. Graf, seeded sixth here, beat Asa Carlsson of Sweden by exactly the same score, winning the last game at love.

Graf next faces Anna Kournikova, who looked in top form in a 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 victory over 11th-seeded Patty Schnyder.

Davenport, who was stopped last year in the semifinals by Sanchez-Vicario, beat Fabiola Zuluaga of Colombia, 7-6, (7-5), 6-3.

On Friday, Andre Agassi advanced to the fourth round and made the shot of the tournament as well.

Trying to close off a rally, Agassi's opponent, Chris Woodruff, sent a near-perfect lob sailing over Agassi's head into the corner.

Agassi sprinted back to the baseline, caught up with the lob, and, his back to the net, whacked the ball through his legs. He turned around just in time to see it zing past Woodruff for a clean winner.

The crowd stood and cheered. Agassi took his cap off and bowed deeply.

He later advised his fans: "Don't try this at home."

The moment showed just how grateful the Roland Garros crowd was to have someone to laugh with. Agassi might not reach the final weekend at Roland Garros. But his presence highlights how the men's tour has lost much of its charisma and appeal, and how the women's game has picked up most of it.

Want personality and attitude? You've got the Williams sisters.

Want a grudge match to make things more interesting? You've got Martina Hingis and Amelie Mauresmo.

Want an underdog making a comeback? Try Jennifer Capriati.

On the men's side, much of the drama left on Thursday with the second-round exit of Pete Sampras. Though Sampras has often been called "boring" because of his quiet demeanor on court, his ever more passionate desire to win at Roland Garros the one title that eludes him attracts more crowd sympathy each year. Sampras was clearly devastated at losing, and that brought some emotion to the proceedings.

Michael Chang, also a crowd favorite, was trying to recapture the magic of his French Open championship and only Grand Slam title 10 years ago. But he, too, was eliminated early.

Agassi himself said he is more interested now in the women's game because the level of intensity and competition has risen.

"Now you've got more depth, so you are seeing better matchups early on," he said. "We're seing Mauresmo and Hingis second round."

On Friday, the top-ranked Hingis and the defending champion, Sanchez-Vicario, advanced easily. But it was more interesting to watch the two Williams sisters as a study in contrasting personalities.

Playing Australian Alicia Molik, Venus Williams was calm and firmly in control, laughing when she finished off a rally with an especially good winner. When she made a mistake, she laughed too, so confident was she of winning which she did, 6-3, 6-1.

Serena, though, was a different story. In a match she was fully expected to win, the 17-year-old looked like she had no idea what she was doing.

She hit overheads long and wide, and carelessly sprayed volleys. She wound up with 42 unforced errors 15 more than her opponent, Mary Joe Fernandez and six double-faults.

"I couldn't keep the ball in play," she said. "I was out of control. I had planned on doing very well here, even taking the title. I never even dreamed in my wildest nightmares that I would have went out in the third round."

Williams won titles in Paris and Indian Wells and reached the final of the Lipton, where she lost to Venus. She came into the French Open seeded No. 10.

The unseeded Fernandez, meanwhile, was smart, solid and patient, and that was all she needed to win 6-3, 1-6, 6-0.

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

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