Seles a shining example

Flashback for Fernandez as she is swept aside by impressive display from the world No 1
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Monica Seles displayed just how seriously she is taking her Wimbledon preparations, after an absence of four years, when she took the trouble to rehearse her curtsy here yesterday.

The fact that she went on bended knee to a ball girl, who presented her with a bouquet of flowers for her final against Mary Joe Fernandez, may show that she has forgotten whom to bow to and when. But, more significantly, she has not lost her real art as she proved with her 6-0 6-2 demolition of Fernandez, the world No 9 and former Wimbledon semi-finalist, in 45 minutes of near-perfect power tennis.

"I feel as if I was washed up out there," Fernandez said. "At no point did I feel as if I was in the match. It was like deja vu for me. I've lost numerous first sets 6-0 to Monica and it was just like the old days .

"I like her chances at Wimbledon because only Steffi Graf can cope with her in this form and no one else can get near her."

Seles, the world's joint No 1 with reigning Wimbledon champion Graf, dropped just five points in a first set that would have been embarrassing for Fernandez had her opponent's game not been so complete.

Even with the hindrance of a torn shoulder muscle, which Seles admitted is likely to need operating on after the US Open in August, Fernandez was helpless to stop the flow of passing shots which beat her from all angles.

Seles, who hit double-handed from both wings, has also developed a double grunt following her comeback last August. What was once a single high pitched squeal now starts with a low moan on the back swing and is punctuated with an aggressive yelp on contact with the ball. It is hardly music to the ear but is effective.

The organisers of this event laid on musical entertainment of their own in the form of the Eastbourne Silver Band, but someone forgot to tell their musical director Geoff Broom that Seles is a Jimi Hendrix fan as they struck up "The Spanish Gypsy Dance". The name of the tune took thoughts to Wembley and the football, but was more in keeping with the afternoon tea dances which are held daily near the tennis complex.

"I love Eastbourne," Seles concluded, after winning her first grass court title on her debut in an event which also marked her return to England for the first time since losing the 1992 Wimbledon final to Graf. "It's so low key."

Seles could have sent one of many bodyguards to keep the band quiet as she warmed up for the final, but resisted the temptation of spoiling the locals' fun.

Residents of Eastbourne always support this Direct Line Insurance tournament well, as a sell-out 5,000 crowd showed, and almost as fervently as the women who have strolled arm in arm around Devonshire park since Martina Navratilova made this event her own by winning it 10 times.

The only other large group in attendance was Seles' bodyguards, also kindly supplied by the organisers. With their shades grafted to their eyes, whether indoors or out, the bodyguards try to look like extras from an American presidential cavalcade, but their accents give them away and they would not have looked out of place supping pints with the Krays in the Blind Beggar pub 30-odd years ago.

Seles headed straight for Wimbledon after the match and refused to predict anything other than a match-by-match approach at the All England club.

She said: "I'm happy with my form and this is great preparation for Wimbledon, but I'm not going to look beyond my first match. I remember Steffi winning Wimbledon one year and then losing in the first round the next year."

Tennis clearly needs an in-form Seles but the problem, when she is this good, is that they can't live without her and they certainly can't live with her.

l Jan Siemerink won the Nottingham Open final yesterday, beating Sandon Stolle 6-3 7-6.