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Graf displays excellence

At the end, the feeling was so good, the tennis so pure, that even winning could not make Steffi Graf wish to stop.

She is accustomed to the winning. Thirty straight matches this year, in fact. She has lost only one set along the way, to Conchita Martinez in the semifinals of the French Open.

But this, this was better. This was one of those magical trips into the zone that even a great player enters rarely. This was one of those spells in which a ball does everything a player requests of it, up to and including rolling over and playing dead.

"It was perfect," said Graf, grinning. "It just felt incredible being out there. I just wanted to keep smiling constantly. I enjoyed it so much, I wish I could have played a little longer."

So does Mary Joe Fernandez, overwhelmed by top seed Graf 6-3, 6-0 Tuesday as the last American woman playing singles in the Wimbledon tournament. Fernandez split six games before being buried by a top player at the top of her game.

The second set took only 22 minutes, and Graf lost only seven points (five of those in Game 4, the only game to reach deuce).

"I think I played better than for a long time. I don't think I could have (played better). I couldn't place the ball better. I could have hit it maybe even harder, but I don't think that would have made any sense. I think I went for everything I could."

Such statements can't make Jana Novotna, Graf's next opponent, rest easier.

Two years ago in the Wimbledon finals, Novotna was a point away from a game that would have given her a 5-1 lead in the third set. She unraveled, and Graf came back to win.

Now the two meet again. Novotna beat Japan's Kimiko Date 6-2, 6-3 in Tuesday's quarterfinals, then said she was not worried about 1993.

"Really, not at all," Novotna said. "We are two years further. It's going to be great to be back on the Centre Court again playing Graf, and we'll see."

The other semifinalists are Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez. Vicario beat Brenda Schultz-McCarthy 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), and Martinez beat Gabriela Sabatini 7-5, 7-6 (7-5). Sanchez Vicario has won six of their previous nine meetings.

Martinez is the defending champion, but Graf remains an overwhelming favorite to win her sixth title.

The third-seeded Martinez, defending champion, rallied from 1-4 in the first set, winning 11 of 13 games to go up 5-1 in the second. But the eighth-seeded Sabatini then won four games in a row, saving two match points at 2-5, to even the set at 5.

In the tiebreaker, Sabatini saved another match point at 4-6 with a forehand passing shot. Martinez ended the 1-hour, 52-minute contest with a forehand volley on the next point.

"I was in total control of the match, and then she started coming in more and putting the pressure on me," Martinez said. "I should have finished the match when I had those two match balls."

Sanchez Vicario was down a break in both sets but rallied to win each time.

The tiebreaker went with serve until Schultz-McCarthy mis-hit a volley to give Sanchez Vicario a 6-4 lead. The match ended on the next point with another error by Schultz-McCarthy.

The victory was a breakthrough for Sanchez Vicario, who never passed the quarterfinals in eight previous Wimbledon appearances. She had reached the quarters twice, in 1989 and 1991.

"This is one of the happiest days of my life," Sanchez Vicario said. "This is the best Wimbledon of my career so far. My goal was to try to pass the quarters. Now that I've done it, it feels great."

Regarding her semifinal against Martinez, she said, "There is one good thing: One Spanish player is going to be in the final. It's a nice feeling to play against another Spanish player."

Martina Navratilova moved closer to her 19th Wimbledon title when she and Jonathan Stark advanced to the semifinals of the mixed doubles with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Rick Leach and Natasha Zvereva. Though retired from singles play, Navratilova was paired with Graf for women's doubles until Graf pulled out to avoid aggravating a back injury.

The men's singles quarterfinals are today.

Two-time defending champion Pete Sampras of Tampa faces Shuzo Matsuoka, the first Japanese man to progress this far at a Grand Slam event since Jiro Sato at Wimbledon in 1933. Top-seeded Andre Agassi faces Jacco Eltingh.

_ The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Wimbledon glance

Results: No. 1 Steffi Graf, No. 2 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, No. 3 Conchita Martinez and No. 4 Jana Novotna advanced.

Today: Men's quarterfinals: No. 1 Andre Agassi vs. Jacco Eltingh, No. 6 Yevgeny Kafelnikov vs. No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic; Shuzo Matsuoka vs. No. 2 Pete Sampras; No. 3 Boris Becker vs. Cedric Pioline.

TV: 10 a.m., Ch. 8.

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