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Hingis, Henin-Hardenne show finesse can win at Wimbledon

| Wednesday, June 28, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

WIMBLEDON, England - Even by the standards of tradition-rich Wimbledon, Martina Hingis' approach is old-fashioned.

For starters, she somehow strikes the ball without a grunt. Rather than swing from the heels, she creates improbable angles to loop, bunt and slice shots that wind up being fielded on several hops by a ball kid.

Finesse can still win, as Hingis showed Tuesday. Completing her first match at Wimbledon in five years following a long injury layoff and an overnight rain delay, she beat the bigger, stronger but less experienced Olga Savchuk 6-2, 6-2.

Hingis hit drop shots, deft lobs and tricky groundstrokes that rarely took a true bounce, negating Savchuk's power game.

"I had to do something, especially on grass," Hingis said. "You have to try to have a lot of variety in your shots. If you don't give the opponent the same shot twice, it definitely helps because the bounces are already so hard to get ready for."

Justine Henin-Hardenne won much the same way, beating Yuan Meng 6-0, 6-1. In this era of big hitters, the slender French Open champion is proud to be a stylistic throwback.

"It's good to have different kinds of games," Henin-Hardenne said. "I think people would love to see more of these kind of players on the tour, but women's tennis is getting very powerful in the last few years."

Hingis, outspoken as ever, said many players sacrifice proper technique for power.

"I do not respect many of the coaches who are out there, because I don't think they're doing the right thing with the girls," Hingis said. "I don't know what the reason is. ... They don't teach the girls the right things."

To be determined over the next fortnight is whether a woman can still win Wimbledon without the groundstroke equivalent of a knockout punch.

In 1997, Hingis became the tournament's youngest champion since 1887 by winning the title at age 16. Then the Williams sisters began to flex their muscles, and they've won Wimbledon five of the past six years.

Hingis rejoined the tour in January after sitting out three years with foot and ankle injuries, and she reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and French Open. Among those optimistic about her chances at Wimbledon is Henin-Hardenne.

"Martina and I prove that we can play another game and still win," Henin-Hardenne said. "Power, it's one thing, but it's not everything in the game."

Grass rewards power, however, and it's the surface that has given five-time Grand Slam winner Henin-Hardenne the most trouble. Wimbledon is the only major event she has yet to win, and last year she lost in the first round.

"I know I have possibilities now in the future to win this tournament," she said. "I would love to take a place in the history."

There's plenty of competition this year, including 2005 U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters and 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won Tuesday. Clijsters beat Vera Zvonareva 7-5, 6-3, and Kuznetsova defeated Romina Oprandi 6-3, 6-2.

Other contenders include top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, 2005 champion Venus Williams and 2004 champion Maria Sharapova, scheduled to play their first-round matches Wednesday. All hit the ball hard.

"It's wide open," Henin-Hardenne said. "That's very exciting on the tour. It's very hard to say, 'This player is dominating the tour, and she is really the favorite for this tournament.'"

The No. 3-seeded Henin-Hardenne and No. 12 Hingis advanced easily toward a potential quarterfinal meeting.

Henin-Hardenne, coming off her third French Open victory and a win on grass last week at Eastbourne, won the first 10 games against Yuan. Taking advantage of the open court she kept craftily creating, Henin-Hardenne hit 28 winners to three for Yuan.

"I played well, very consistent, pretty aggressive," she said. "That's the kind of match you need in your first rounds."

Hingis' victory took 24 hours, 40 minutes, from start to finish. Rain interrupted play after one set Monday, and it resumed a day later.

She handled Savchuk's big serves, which averaged 14 mph faster than those by Hingis, won 22 points at the net and swept the final four games.

The victory came on Court 2, the so-called "Graveyard of Champions." But after one round, Hingis' title hopes at Wimbledon are very much alive. Additional Information:

Wimbledon online

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