Seles has no answer to Hingis

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Martina Hingis, the 16-year-old Swiss girl, gave Monica Seles her greatest defeat as a professional with a surprise 6-2, 6-0 triumph on Sunday in the Bank of the West Classic final in Oakland, California.

Hingis needed only 52 minutes at the Henry J Kaiser Arena to claim victory in her first meeting with the joint world No 2 and top seed in the tournament. The third-seeded Hingis broke Seles's serve in every game except one, and dropped her own serve just once. She committed only five unforced errors and smacked 30 winners compared to Seles's 11.

"Martina played some great tennis," Seles said. "She blew me away today. There was not much I could do. She had better answers for every shot I had."

It was the first time Seles had lost a set to love since a 6-3, 6-0 hiding from Martina Navratilova at the 1990 Virginia Slims of Washington, and only the fourth "bagel" of her career.

"I kind of knew it was gone at 3-0 in the second set. That's when I first started feeling it," Seles said. "She's so smart. She has all the angles covered."

Hingis conceded she had played nearly flawless tennis against her one- time idol. Seles is the ninth top-10 player Hingis has defeated this year.

"I played such a perfect match today, it was unbelievable," said Hingis, who recalled the first time she had encountered Seles.

"It was a long time ago when I met her at Zurich. I was like nine or 10 years old. She went off in a helicopter and gave me an autograph. So today was a little too much for me."

The victory enabled Hingis to exceed the goals she had set for herself in 1996. "This year my hope was to win one of the big tournaments, and now I've won two," she said. "And to play Monica for the first time and win... Wow!"

It was a win even a mother could be proud of. "We thought we'd see Monica try to overpower her, but she was a little off her game today," said Melanie Zogg-Hingis, Martina's mother and coach. "I'm proud of the way Martina played. It is quite a moment for her."

Hingis will rise to No 6 in the rankings after this performance. "There's no doubt she's going to be a force in women's tennis," Seles, the Australian Open champion, said. "She's so young and she's only going to get better and stronger - that's the scary part."

LEADING WTA RANKINGS: 1 S Graf (Ger); 2= M Seles (US); 2= A Sanchez Vicario (Sp); 3 C Martinez (Sp); 4 J Novotna (Cz Rep); 5 A Huber (Ger); 6 M Hingis (Swit); 7 L Davenport (US); 8 I Majoli (Croa); 9 K Date (Japan); 10 B Schultz-McCarthy (Neth); 11 M J Fernandez (US); 12 B Paulus (Aut); 13 I Spirlea (Rom); 14 C Rubin (US); 15 J Halard-Decugis (Fr); 16 K Habsudova (Slov); 17 A Coetzer (SA); 18 M Pierce (Fr); 19 M Maleeva (Bul); 20 Judith Wiesner (Aut).