1996: The shape of things to come

Tennis: Seles re-emerges as women's benchmark
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The Independent Online
No prizes for guessing what is at the top of Monica Seles' career wish list. "I've not played well at Wimbledon, ever," she reminds us. "I hope I have a chance one year to play well there."

Seles' last visit to the All England Club, in 1992, which began with journalists using "gruntometers", deteriorated further when Nathalie Tauziat and Martina Navratilova in turn complained to umpires about her noise level, and ended with a disappointing - and totally muted - perormance against Steffi Graf in the final.

The previous year, Seles withdrew on the eve of the tournament and spent subsequent weeks spinning a web of mystery about her disappearance (sore shins was the mudane explanation when eventually it came).

Seles' prospects of winning the only Grand Slam singles title to have eluded her may depend as much on the form and fitness of Graf as on her own well-being. Both players have suffered physically since Seles' astonishing sequence of victories on returning to the game 27 months after being stabbed ended with a defeat by the German in the final of the United States Open in September. Graf has undergone foot surgery and will miss the Australian Open next month for the second consecutive year. Seles is among the entries, although a knee injury has kept her out of tournaments since the US Open.

After making her comeback in an exhibition match against Martina Navratilova in Atlantic City in July, Seles said she hoped to be in good shape for 1996. The women's game shares that hope as it moves into another potentially difficult year with a new WTA Tour sponsor, Corel, the Canadian computer software company. The WTA Tour Players' Association is already at odds with the organisers of the Australian Open, once staunch supporters of equal prize money, who decided to give more to the men, with the exception of the two singles champions.

Money is not everything, as players keep telling us. So, although Seles is loath to plan too far ahead, the Olympics in July may be another of her targets. Born in Novi Sad, in the former Yugoslavia, she is now eligible to play for the United States through citizenship.

British tennis, while desperate for a revival in the women's game, will trust in continued improvement among the men. May brings an opportunity to take the first stride back towards Davis Cup respectability, with a tie against Slovenia at Newcastle.

A special cheer will be reserved for Jeremy Bates on his last appearance at Wimbledon, and there will be fond farewells for Stefan Edberg as the exemplary champion from Sweden makes a final world tour of the courts.

PREDICTIONS: Monica Seles to accomplish a Grand Slam plus the Olympic title. Pete Sampras to make it four in a row at Wimbledon.

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