Seles blows away another obstacle

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The Independent Online


reports from New York

Two down, five to go. Monica Seles took a second step towards marking her comeback with a triumph at the United States Open yesterday, troubled more by blustery conditions than a lowly ranked opponent.

A 6-2, 6-1 win in 58 minutes against Erika de Lone, an American who put studies at Harvard on hold for the sport, means that Seles has not dropped a set in seven matches since returning to the tour at the Canadian Open (eight including the exhibition against Martina Navratilova in Atlantic City).

De Lone, ranked No 113 in the world, at least had the satisfaction of breaking the No 2 seed's serve in the third game, Seles netting a backhand. Otherwise it was business as usual as Seles continued towards a projected renewal of her rivalry with Steffi Graf in the final.

For Graf, lighter moments have been so rare, what with her suspect back and her father/manager in prison accused of tax evasion, that she welcomed the opportunity of a wry smile during an interview on Wednesday night. Asked if she had been to a Broadway show, she said she had seen the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Graf's mood also brightened on the court, a second-round win against Italy's Rita Grande, 6-1, 6-3, in 44 minutes reminding her of how things were when tennis was uppermost in her mind. The ease of the match enabled Graf to relax and play her shots, a luxury denied the top seed when struggling to avert a second consecutive defeat by the South African, Amanda Coetzer, in the opening round.

A third-round contest against the experienced Nathalie Tauziat, of France, ranked No 20, would appear to suggest renewed difficulty, although the statistics argue strongly against it. Graf has won their 17 previous matches, dating back to 1986. The closest Tauziat came to taking a set was in their last meeting, at the 1993 Canadian Open (2-6, 5-7).

While Seles pressed on, the latest example of why the women's game has struggled in her absence was a crushing defeat for the 19-year-old Lindsay Davenport. The 10th seed was beaten 6-1, 6-3 in 65 minutes by an unseeded American compatriot, Zina Garrison Jackson. "Inspired," was Davenport's description of her 31-year-old opponent's performance. Garrison Jackson demonstrated why she has had second thoughts about retirement. The bulky Davenport showed she needs to work harder on her fitness.

Tim Henman failed in his attempt to become the first Briton to advance to the third round of the men's singles since Andrew Castle in 1987. The 20-year-old from Oxford, who qualified for his debut in the championships, made an encouraging recovery after losing the opening set against the American Davis Cup player Jared Palmer, and led 2-0 in the third set. Opportunities came and went before Palmer took control again to win, 6- 4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, after three hours and five minutes.

Boris Becker continues to show the form and confidence which took him to the Wimbledon final in July. The German's 6-1, 6-3, 7-5 win against Carsten Arriens, a countryman ranked No 118, took him into a third-round match against Jason Stoltenberg, of Australia.

Sergi Bruguera, the French Open champion of 1993 and '94, enlisted the help of John McEnroe in an attempt to improve his performance on the rubberised concrete courts. The Spaniard, seeded No 11, lost in the second round to the Czech Daniel Vacek, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

Bruguera made four winning volleys to Vacek's 13. Asked how much McEnroe had helped him in their week together, Bruguera said: "Well, he is not God. He cannot make me a god."