TENNIS AUSTRALIAN OPEN : Seles, Using 7 Aces, Stops Graf in 3 Sets

From Associated Press

Silent no longer and stronger than ever, top-ranked Monica Seles unleashed seven aces today to sweep past Steffi Graf and earn her third consecutive Australian Open title.

Seles, who restrained her grunts when she lost to Graf at Wimbledon last year, did not worry about making noise during a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory.

Seles' fastest serve, clocked at 102 m.p.h., came on her final ace and wiped out a break point that would have put the third set back on serve in the seventh game. Seles then held serve when No. 2-seeded Graf made errors on the next two points.

"I still felt I was in it," Graf said about the break point. "I didn't have my doubts at that moment. I knew this would be more or less it."

Graf paused as she thought back to that lost opportunity.

"I'm a mess," she said, covering her face with her hands.

Said Seles: "It was 30-all, and I was so mad she had a chance to break back. I worked so hard to get the break. I just let it go (the ace) and it just went in."

The victory, worth nearly $280,000, gave Seles her eighth Grand Slam title in the last 10 finals in which she has played.

"She really deserved to win today," said Graf, who had won the three consecutive Australian Open titles before Seles' streak.

Seles' serve, which she has been developing, let her down in the first set when she started out with a double fault. Seles double-faulted again in the last game of the set, when she was broken for the second time.

"I told myself to concentrate," Seles said. "Don't look at the score, just play point by point."

Then, grunting as loud as ever, Seles took a 2-1 lead in the second set when she broke Graf's serve with the help of a double-fault at 15-40.

From that moment, Seles never relented. She aced Graf to open the next game and hit two service winners, including one at 101 m.p.h., to make it 3-1.

Graf, who had only one ace, was pinned back by Seles' deep groundstrokes and could not cash in on a break point in eighth game of the second set. Seles got back to deuce with a desperate lob long by Graf, then took the advantage with one of the most pivotal points of the match.

Seles hit half a dozen forehands cross-court to Graf's relatively weak backhand, pinning her in the corner as Graf floated back slices. Suddenly, Seles drilled a forehand down the line on the other side of the court, and Graf could do nothing but chase it futilely.

That point, which gave Seles an advantage after what could have been break, bolstered her confidence and seemed to deflate Graf, who netted a forehand return to lose the game.

Seles then broke Graf for the set, winning the first point on one of only four volleys she had in the match and closing out the set when Graf hit a forehand long.

"She plays every point as hard as she can," Graf said. "She never gives any easy points or easy games."

In the third set, Seles served three aces in her first two service games, then broke Graf to go up 4-2 after three deuces and three break points. The winning point came on a forehand by Graf that floated wide.

"I made a lot of double faults," Seles said. "Against Steffi, it's tough to serve aces. I must have served well. I think the serve was going better in the late second set and third set when I was just rapping it in."

Seles, who won three of the four Grand Slam events last year, dismissed her rivalry with Graf for No. 1.

"I don't look at it as a rivalry," Seles said. "It's a game. I just play it. I never thought I would do so well in Grand Slams."

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