Eastbourne lures Graf and Seles

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The Independent Online
Monica Seles, who has not played at Wimbledon since 1992, may complete the preparation for her return to the All England Club by joining Steffi Graf in making her debut at the Direct Line Insurance Championships at Eastbourne from 17 to 22 June.

George Hendon, the Eastbourne tournament director, confirmed yesterday that a wild card had been requested for Seles. "We've been told by her management that, providing she comes through the French Open OK, it's her intention to play at Eastbourne," he said.

A joint appearance by the two players co-ranked No 1 in the world would be an unexpected bonus. Graf and Seles rarely compete at the same tournaments outside the four Grand Slams, one tending to be injured when the other is fit.

Seles has competed in only five events since making her comeback last August, almost two and a half years after being stabbed by a spectator in Hamburg in April, 1993. In January, when Seles won the Australian Open, Graf was absent, recovering from a foot operation.

Although Graf once played in the under-21 event at Eastbourne, it is the first time she has entered the main draw. During the past five years, many leading women players have preferred to practise the week before Grand Slams rather than risk their ranking by playing tournaments. The situation has been eased by a new WTA Tour rule which protects the points average of top players who enter events the week before a Grand Slam.

Seles, who has been nursing an injured shoulder since competing in Tokyo the week after the Australian Open, is due to play in Madrid next week in the hope of finding her feet on clay courts on the eve of the French Open, which starts on 27 May.

The men have been scuffling with the same objective in mind here at the Italian Open, where Stefan Edberg bade farewell to the championships yesterday in circumstances more dramatic and emotional than a 6-3, 6-3 defeat by the Dutchman Richard Krajicek might suggest.

For one thing, Krajicek came close to beating the fastest serve recorded in the seven years of the ATP Tour - the 220.4kph by Britain's Greg Rusedski. Krajicek was timed at 220kph (137mph).

The delivery, which came when Krajicek was leading 4-3, 30-30 in the second set of the quarter-final, was not an ace. Edberg managed to get his racket to the ball, but could only watch his return fly wide.

Blocking the shot would not have improved Edberg's dodgy wrist, which he had shaken in pain after attempting to parry a smash two points earlier. But the Swede still contrived to create two break points in the game, the second with a superb top-spin lob. In each case, Krajicek salvaged the situation with an ace.

The 24-year-old Dutchman served, returned and volleyed with conviction throughout, and regularly drew Edberg to the net and passed him. Although outplayed at his own elegant game, Edberg never lost the support of the capacity Centre Court crowd.

So warm was the standing ovation accorded Edberg at the finish that one would have imagined him to be a regular visitor to the Foro Italico rather than making his third, and final, trip to the tournament.

In today's semi-finals Krajicek will play South Africa's Wayne Ferreira, who defeated Andrei Medvedev, 6-4, 6-4. Ferreira reached the same stage last year, losing to Thomas Muster, the eventual champion.

Muster, who had an unexpectedly comfortable 6-3, 6-2 win against the Chilean second seed, Marcelo Rios, renews his rivalry with Spain's Alberto Costa.