Seles Gets Jump on Martinez and Rain

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For those who swim in the shallow talent pool at the upper ranks of women’s tennis, it’s a small world where a few players keep bumping into each other. It’s possible to reprise matches against the same opponent every other week.

So it was that Friday’s semifinal “rematch” between Monica Seles and Conchita Martinez at the U.S. Open exuded less possibility for pizazz than a rehash of their meeting under the same circumstances here last year. The fourth-seeded Martinez offered more resistance than she had in last year’s straight-set loss, some consolation, but the outcome was the same.

The second-seeded Seles advanced again to the final with a 6-4, 6-3 victory, but her opponent in the final remains unknown. In the other women’s semifinal that was played later in the day, top-seeded Steffi Graf and 16th-seeded Martina Hingis got in only one game before rain stopped play for the day.


The advance guard of tropical storm Fran hit the National Tennis Center late in the afternoon, with intermittent showers thwarting efforts of U.S. Open officials to finish the women’s semifinals before today’s scheduled men’s semifinals.

Also on today’s schedule is a forecast for torrential rain, all day, which promises to discombobulate the already-busy day.

The rain seemed to have an uncanny sense of timing during the Graf-Hingis match. Hingis managed to hold her serve in the first game, then Graf complained that the mist was making the lines slick.

The two sat during the change-over, then were dispatched to the locker room to wait it out. Five times in the ensuing hours the 40-person squeegee crew wiped down the court and each time, just as the final drop of moisture was pushed away, the rain came again.

Seles and Martinez barely escaped the precipitation.

The match was clean if uninspired. The Spaniard had an errant serve all day and seldom moved from a position she had taken up well beyond the baseline.

After a so-so middle season, Seles is beginning to look like the firebrand she was last year. After returning to the tour a year ago, having sat out 2 1/2 years after she was stabbed by a fan of Graf in Germany, Seles went on a tear, winning the first tournament she entered and getting to the final here against Graf. She failed to win the title but pronounced herself delighted to be back and pleased with her game.


That enthusiasm spilled over to this season, when Seles devised an ambitious early-season schedule that everyone--including her father, who is her coach--argued against.

Seles’ plan was briefly vindicated when she won the Australian Open in January, but it was at that Grand Slam event that she incurred her most troubling injury. Seles tore the lining in her left shoulder and the left-hander has a seriously compromised serve as a result.

The medical consensus is that Seles’ shoulder will require surgery after the season.

Her season has never reached top speed, nor has a sluggish and puffy Seles. She returned to both the French Open and Wimbledon, her favorite events, and was ineffective. Always a player who dictates the pace and style of a match, Seles has been befuddled by her lethargy. At the French, Seles reported the unthinkable: “I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know how not to do it.”

No doubt her confidence is shaken by her injuries, but even that seems to be creeping back into her game. Her serve is still suspect, but in women’s tennis that’s not the handicap it might be. She has learned to cope. It’s not powerful but it’s accurate. Seles got in 80% of her first serves against Martinez and had no double faults.

“Coming into the Open, I knew I was playing much better tennis than I had been at the French and Wimbledon because I simply had more time to practice,” she said. “I know what I can do and how I need to change my game plan because of my shoulder. At the French and Wimbledon, I was still struggling with that.”

Apparently not anymore.


Featured Matches

Today’s featured matches at the U.S. Open:


Beginning 8 a.m. PDT


* Men’s semifinals--No. 2 Michael Chang vs. No. 6 Andre Agassi; No. 1 Pete Sampras vs. No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic.


* Women’s semifinals--No. 1 Steffi Graf vs. No. 16 Martina Hingis, completion of suspended match.