Steffi Graf's 45-match winning streak in Grand Slam events ended Sunday at the oven-like Australian Open as she succumbed to the oppressive heat and Amanda Coetzer 6-2, 7-5.
Graf, who had won all six majors she entered in the past two years, failed to reach the quarterfinals of one of tennis' big four tournaments for only the second time in a decade.With temperatures soaring to 100 degrees in the shade, and probably 40 degrees higher on the sun-baked rubberized hard courts, the top-seeded Graf asked to be treated several times with ice packs during the match. But there was no escape from her own mistakes and the pressure of Coetzer, who clawed back from 2-5 in the second set.
Graf's first loss in a major since the final of the 1994 U.S. Open ended a stunning afternoon of defeats by seeded women.
No. 3 Conchita Martinez, also a victim of heat exhaustion, fell to Sabine Applemans 2-6, 7-5, 6-1; Mary Pierce beat No. 5 Anke Huber 6-2, 6-3; and Kimberly Po ousted No. 7 Lindsay Davenport 7-6 (15-13), 6-4.
Graf, now able to return to Germany for the verdict later this week in her father's tax evasion trial, trailed 2-5 for the third straight match. This time, she couldn't come back.
Graf saved one set point at 1-5 in the first set and kept for 5-2, but lost the next game on three netted forehands and a backhand crosscourt winner by the No. 12 Coetzer, a semifinalist at the Australian last year.
Graf appeared to get back to her usual pattern in the second set as she raced to a 4-0 lead, losing only five points in the process as she pounded forehand winners.
Po outlasted Davenport, the Olympic gold medalist, to win one of the longest tiebreakers in women's singles history, then closed out the match to reach the quarterfinals - the first time she's gone past the third round in a Grand Slam event in 19 appearances.
In brutal heat, the 25-year-old Po, nearly a foot shorter than the 6-foot-21/2, 20-year-old Davenport, played much more consistently in the second set after trailing 3-0.
While the No. 7-seeded Davenport sprayed shots wide, long and into the net for 28 unforced errors in the set, the No. 23-ranked Po was nearly flawless as she won six of the final seven games.
The tiebreaker between the two Southern Californians tied for the third-longest in women's singles in the Open era since 1968. Po, who overcame a 4-1 deficit to push the set into a tiebreaker, faced four set points in the tiebreaker and held six of her own before putting it way.
For Davenport, the loss was another in a string of disappointing performances since she won the gold in Atlanta and beat Steffi Graf en route to a tournament title in Los Angeles afterward. Davenport has trimmed down to the point where she can chase down balls all over the court, but her weight loss may also have taken some of the sting and timing out of her game.
Champion two years ago, dumped in disgrace by her coach last year, Mary Pierce showed she's back in form to contend for a second Australian Open title.
Pierce, uninspired and out of condition when she lost in the second round a year ago, looked charged up as she beat last year's runnerup, No. 5 Anke Huber, 6-2, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals.
In men's matches, No. 2 Michael Chang cruised into the quarters with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Andrei Medvedev of the Ukraine, and No. 14 Felix Mantilla of Spain beat MaliVai Washington 7-5, 6-2, 6-1.
Spain's Carlos Moya, who conquered defending champion Boris Becker in the first round, also advanced to the quarters with a 6-3, 1-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman.