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Doubles partner ends Pierce's singles run

Mary Pierce's singles comeback from injury was cut short in a three-set centre court battle yesterday, but not before the former world No 3 had shown she might not be too far from a return to her best.

Beaten 6-4, 4-6, 4-6 by the ASB Classic's fifth seed and her doubles partner, Argentine Paola Suarez, Pierce said she regarded the two singles matches she has had in Auckland as "a great springboard".

"It was really good for me to play here," Pierce said. "I guess today was not my day - too many unforced errors."

At times the Frenchwoman showed glimpses of the powerful ground strokes so much a trademark in the days in the mid to late 1990s when she matched and often beat the best.

Asked whether she felt under any pressure as the tournament's drawcard, she shrugged.

"I like to do well wherever I play. If there is any pressure it comes from what I put on myself," she said.

"It has been fun here. The fans are great and really supportive."

Pierce gave her band of followers plenty of hope when she fought back from 1-3 to win a sometimes spectacular first set 6-4 in just over half an hour.

With a mixture of powerful ground strokes, well-hit volleys and some of the delicate stuff tossed in, Pierce was on song.

At 2-0 in the second she was on her way.

But Suarez is no pushover.

She, too, showed some of her best even if she did receive a code violation from the chair umpire after her coach, Daniel Pereya, was ticked off for giving off-court advice.

The 26-year-old Argentine fought back to 2-2, raced to 5-2 and closed out the second set after 40 minutes with a service game to love.

Pierce, two weeks shy of her 28th birthday, showing signs at times of tiring, and Suarez looked for a quick finish. They traded a couple of aces and some pretty good shots - back and fore hand - to 3-3.

Pierce dropped her service in the seventh game allowing Suarez to eventually serve it out and book her place in the feature quarter-final - against second seed, Greek Elena Daniilidou, this evening.

Speaking after her win but before she and Pierce returned for their late-night doubles, Suarez said: "Mary Pierce is a tough player. She hits the ball hard.

"Early on I could not do what I wanted to. Slowly, I felt a little bit better.

"My coach and I had planned the tactics I would use. I could not do that in the beginning - I was too nervous."

Daniilidou, who has yet to play Suarez on tour, was relentless in disposing of unseeded German Martina Muller.

Needing just 45 minutes to book her place in the last eight, Daniilidou won the first set 6-3 dropping only five points on serve. The second was even more one-sided, Daniilidou taking just 17 minutes in winning 6-0.

The Greek No 1 has yet to drop a set.

Neither has rising Russian hope Vera Zvonareva, who beat German Anca Barna 6-3, 6-4.

"It has been a good start for the year for me," said Zvonareva.

"Anca is difficult to play against. She plays every point.

"I think I need a couple more matches to get into my best form. It is good to be in the quarter-finals this early in the year."

Still chasing her first tournament win in just over two years as a professional, Zvonareva will be first on court this morning to play Korean Yoon Jeong Cho who caused a minor upset with her straight sets win over sixth seed Clarisa Fernandez.

In the last of the day's singles, unseeded American Laura Granville continued her run with a 6-3, 6-2 win over popular Zimbabwean Cara Black.

Granville now meets Swiss hope Emmanuelle Gagliardi, who won a titanic three-set battle with American qualifier Ashley Harkleroad.

Harkleroad won plenty of fans with her gutsy effort in taking Gagliardi to a tiebreak in the third set after the Swiss No 5 had coasted through the first set 6-2 before dropping the second 1-6 in temperatures reaching 33C.

Today's schedule

Centre court, from 11am: Vera Zvonareva (Russia) v Yoon Jeong Cho (Korea), Anna Pistolesi (Israel) v Jill Craybas (US), Laura Granville (US) v Emmanuelle Gagliardi (Switzerland).

At 7pm: 5-Paola Suarez (Argentina) v 2-Elena Daniilidou (Greece), Ashley Harkleroad (US)/Maria Emilia Salerni (Argentina) v Teryn Ashley/Abigail Spears.

Court four (not before 4pm): 1-Cara Black (Zimbabwe)/Elena Likhovtseva (Russia) v Catherine Barclay (Australia)/Martina Muller (Germany).
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