Charity toward Monica Seles in her comeback to women’s tennis is bordering on overkill. Last week, she won her first tournament in nearly 2 1/2 years after top seeds lost in early rounds and she beat an unseeded player in the final.
For her first-round match at the U.S. Open, a fortunate draw presented Seles with Ruxandra Dragomir, who lost, 6-3, 6-1, in 56 minutes Monday night.
The Romanian, ranked No. 44 in the world, was as effusive in her praise of Seles after the match as she had been ineffective against her during it.
Even while all common indicators point to Seles’ ability--she’s seeded No. 2 and co-ranked No. 1--the 21-year-old still appears to be sneaking up on her peers, who had not seen her in 28 months before she won the du Maurier Ltd. Canadian Open in Toronto.
“She is a very tough player, I mean, she is unbelievable,” Dragomir said. “I couldn’t even imagine that she is that good. She is really tough.”
Presumably, players will stop heaping praise upon Seles when they grow tired of her winning everything in sight, which she appears poised to do.
Her return to the National Tennis Center and her beloved Grand Slam event, which she has twice won, drew 18,140 on a cool, windy night. She was warmly received by the crowd and walked on the court smiling and waving, while passing through an armada of some 40 photographers who were bobbing and weaving, doing their walking-backward-while-shooting- in-front-of-her act.
While Seles was swarmed by photographers while sitting in her chair before warmups, Dragomir was ignored. She sat quietly and extracted her racket from her bag and waited while Seles emerged from the scrum.
As she has several times of late, Seles double-faulted to open the match. That was the last point Dragomir won in that game. Seles’ much-improved serve held up well, she got in 74% of her first serves and had three aces. Dragomir had seven points against Seles serve in the first set.
Dragomir came out with a sound plan--hit down the middle to take away the angles. However, although Dragomir usually plays with topspin and slice, she elected not to go to those shots. Seles didn’t allow it.
“I should have played more topspin,” Dragomir said. “But because she was hitting so hard and deep, I just didn’t have the time. When you hit the ball hard, it comes back even harder. What I did was just hit too hard. I think she likes it.”
Correct. Seles broke in the fourth game and continued to drag the Romanian all over the court with pinpoint placement and a wicked kick serve. Because of the pace of Seles’ shots, Dragomir was unable to get to the net or compel Seles to go there. In fact, Seles showed a facility for drop shots and unveiled her one-handed strokes, especially a sharp forehand.
“I love my one-handed forehand,” Seles said. “As a two-hander I need that because it is so much harder for me to cover the court if somebody is hitting wide. I need that one-hander on my forehand and my one-handed slice on my backhand.”
Seles broke Dragmonir’s serve in the first game of the second set then broke again in the fifth and seventh. Seles did what great players have to do, she won the big points and held her serve. Even though she claimed to have experienced an attack of nerves before the match that nearly immobilized her, Seles soon grew accustomed to playing before a huge crowd at a Grand Slam tournament.
“The first five minutes, everything was new,” she said. “Looking way up, I didn’t remember that [the stadium] was so high. After hitting for about five or 10 minutes, everything started coming back; all the memories of where my father and my mom sat during the tournaments, where you hold the trophy, a couple of passing shots against Martina [Navratilova] and one or two shots against [Jennifer] Capriati in 1991, all started coming back. Wow.”