Breathing hard, gasping for air at times, yet still superior in every aspect of the game, two-time U.S. Open champion Monica Seles extended her stunning comeback Monday with another lopsided victory.
Seles, grunting as always, slugged serves at up to 105 m.p.h., drove ground strokes with the pace of old into the corners and displayed a deft touch on drop shots as she beat Ruxandra Dragomir, 6-3, 6-1.
“I think the whole match I was very nervous,” Seles said. “My heart was so fast. I had so much energy and she just slowed down everything.”
Seles, who sometimes had more trouble with her hair blowing in the breeze than she did with Dragomir, said she kept thinking about the match all day, not making plans on how to play, but just about the moment.
“I wasn’t conscious out there,” she said, adding that she got a boost from a young girl at courtside who kept urging her to, “Go for it, Monica.”
After nervously double faulting to start the match, Seles won the next four points and settled down into a rhythm that would take her to her 15th consecutive victory at the U.S. Open--seven apiece in 1991 and ’92 when she won, and one more now after a two-year interval.
Seles didn’t have an easy time in this match, despite the score. Dragomir, a Romanian ranked No. 44, played well and made her run. Seles isn’t yet in the best shape, even after winning the Canadian Open just over a week ago, and there were moments when she bent over gasping for air following long rallies.
She asserted herself in the third game with a big service winner at game-point, then got the only break of the set she needed in the next game for a 3-1 lead. Seles served out her last two games of the set at love.
In the second set, Seles yielded only 14 points.
The physical toll, and perhaps the mental one, of returning to Grand Slam tennis after such a long absence was evident in the unusually high number of unforced errors she hit--21 in a short match--but she also hit 20 winners, compared to Dragomir’s eight.
“She is unbelievable,” Dragomir said after playing her for the first time. “I couldn’t even imagine that she is that good.”
Defending champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, reduced to a bit player in the Monica Seles Open, won in a yawn before a sleepy audience and thousands of empty seats gleaming silver in the sun.
Waiting for Monica was all anyone seemed to care about on the first day of the U.S. Open. The food courts were more crowded than the stands. Some of the fans in the stadium preferred to snooze on the metal benches and work on their tans until Sanchez Vicario finished.
Three times a finalist in Grand Slam events this year, and three times a loser, the third-seeded Sanchez Vicario produced one of many predictable victories, dispatching Catalina Cristea 6-1, 6-1 in 49 minutes.
“It is normal that all the attention is on Monica,” Sanchez Vicario said. “I mean, she is back, and after two years she is doing a great job. It is better in some ways for me because it will take the pressure off for me. I know the attention is on Steffi and Monica.”
Sanchez Vicario dismissed reports that she was unhappy about the WTA dropping her from No. 2 to No. 3 when it made Seles co-No. 1 with Graf.
“I don’t know where that comes from, but it has been a lot of talking,” she said. “I only said that it is great that she is coming back. It makes more competition. It is better for the game.”
Sanchez Vicario, who beat Graf in the final last year, is seeded to meet her in the semifinals this time.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “If I would be second seeded, I would have to face [Seles] or Steffi probably in the final. Now it would be earlier. But I don’t think it affects me. If you want to be the best player, you have to beat everybody. She is back, so we will have to face her. I will be ready. If I have to face Steffi, I will also be ready.”
Gabriela Sabatini, No. 9, was no more tested in a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Adriana Serra-Zanetti. Mary Pierce, No. 6, had it almost as easy beating Mariaan de Swardt, 6-4, 6-1.
Nor were there many compelling matches among the men as fourth-seeded Boris Becker beat Alex Lopez Moron, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3, and unseeded Stefan Edberg defeated Martin Damm, 6-0, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).
No. 10 Wayne Ferreira lost, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1, to 109th-ranked Jerome Golmard, but that wasn’t so much of a shock. Ferreira lost in the third round of the Open last year, the fourth in 1993, and has never gotten past the quarters in five tries.