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Seles Has Enough to Reach Final

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maybe it was some sort of tennis hangover lingering around the grounds of Manhattan Country Club Saturday. Eventually, like the morning haze, it would wear off.

Not quite.

The semifinals of the Estyle.com Classic suffered in comparison to Friday night’s brilliant quarterfinal between Serena Williams and Monica Seles. The afternoon crowd was subdued and there was little drama, as second-seeded Lindsay Davenport defeated No. 5 Nathalie Tauziat of France, 6-1, 6-2.

And, the sixth-seeded Seles found it difficult to live up to her rarefied level of play Friday night but soldiered on, pulling out a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 victory against top-seeded Martina Hingis of Switzerland in 1 hour 28 minutes.

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The pro-Seles crowd stirred and went through the gamut of emotions with the sentimental favorite. They were thrilled when she took the first set in 32 minutes, groaned when she went flat in the second and cheered when she broke Hingis in the first game of the third.

With two wins against Hingis, another against Jennifer Capriati and one against Serena Williams in the last nine days, Seles was running on fumes.

How much was in reserve?

“Definitely not much,” Seles said, smiling. “I just came out there and said, ‘Give it the best shot.’ The first set was really long, the second I went flat. I was tough enough to hold my serve the entire third set and that made the difference.”

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Hingis laughed when asked if she ever had a crowd against her like this. Evidently, her problems with the French fans are not known everywhere.

“Oh, yeah, you haven’t been to too many of my matches,” she said. “This is nothing.”

By reaching today’s final, Seles will be ranked at least No. 8, moving past Tauziat and Serena Williams. If she beats Davenport, she will be No. 7 when the rankings are released Monday. Davenport goes from No. 3 to No. 2.

Davenport has an 8-2 record against Seles and has not lost to her since the Manhattan Beach final in 1997, winning eight consecutive times.

Hingis, noting how many matches Seles has played recently, gave the edge to Davenport.

“It’s going to be difficult for Monica,” she said. “She has a really tough draw, [Sandrine] Testud, Serena, me and a fresh Lindsay. Who knows? Miracles happen all the time.”

Davenport and Hingis were both impressed by the level of play between Seles and Williams.

“I was getting a massage from 8:30 to 9:30,” Davenport said. “It [the crowd] was so loud. Finally at 6-6, the trainer and I decided to go out there and watch the tiebreak.”

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Even if Tauziat had been on her game, it would have been hard to equal the electricity of Friday. Davenport played her best match of the tournament, winning the first set in 20 minutes, and never faced a break point.

“When we were being introduced on the court and the players she beat this week were [Kim] Clijsters and [Jelena] Dokic, right then, I was thinking, ‘Oh, gosh, this is going to be pretty tough, she’s playing well,’ ” Davenport said.

Hingis has taken note of Tauziat’s success here and is trying to incorporate some aggressive net-rushing into her game. After all, she has not won a tournament since February and has been unable to even reach a final lately.

“How would you feel? Probably not that great,” Hingis said of her drought.

But she is a baseliner, by nature, and new habits are hard to acquire.

“It’s going to be hard. Watching Nathalie, the way she beat Clijsters was amazing to me. Little girls like us, it’s the only way. It’s pretty hard because it’s not my mentality. I have to overcome myself to really get that way. That’s what my mom is there for. She’s my coach and she’s great. So she’s pushing me all the time to do it.”

Hingis, still No. 1, is looking for solace, and has even taken something from Seles’ breakthrough.

Seles, who missed the French Open and Wimbledon because of an injured foot, isn’t even sure how she is doing it. She was visibly tired in her postmatch news conference and her voice trailed off when she was asked about today’s final against Davenport, saying: “I think we’re both really nice people.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Today’s Final

What: WTA estyle.com Classic

Pairing: Lindsay Davenport

vs. Monica Seles

Where: Manhattan Country Club, Manhattan Beach

When: 11:45 a.m.

TV: Channel 4

(1 p.m., delayed)


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