Seles poised to reach the top on merit

Tennis

Tennis

JOHN ROBERTS

Monica Seles is expected to be co-ranked as the world No 1 with Steffi Graf on merit, rather than by dispensation, after completing the sixth tournament of her comeback in Florida later this month.

Barring elimination in the early rounds of the Lipton Championships, which commence on 21 March, it is anticipated that Seles's points average will be higher than Graf's on the rankings computer come 1 April.

When Seles returned to the WTA Tour last August, it was decided that she would share the top ranking with Graf for her first six events, having been the No 1 when stabbed in the back by a Graf fanatic in Hamburg in April 1993.

After six tournaments (or 12 months from the date of her return, whichever came first), Seles will be co-ranked with the player whose average is immediately below hers.

Seles has won three of her first five events, Toronto, Sydney and the Australian Open, finishing runner-up to Graf at the United States Open and to Iva Majoli of Croatia in Tokyo.

"It appears that Monica will have a higher average than Steffi," said Kathy Remke, the Corel WTA Tour's director of management information systems. "Assuming that Monica does normally well at the Lipton - she doesn't have to do exceptionally well - she should come out co-ranked No 1 with Steffi."

As a special consideration, Seles's total points currently are divided by the number of tournaments she has played. Normally, total points are divided by a minimum of 14, or the total number of tournaments played, whichever is greater. Graf, having played 10 events going into the Evert Cup, which is taking place in Indian Wells, California, is still having her points divided by 14.

Seles, who withdrew from the Evert Cup in order to rest an ailing shoulder, will continue to have the advantage of a divisor until she has participated in 14 tournaments within a 52-week period (or for a maximum of 18 months). Only then will she be given an individual ranking.

Graf, who is competing in her first tournament since undergoing foot surgery at the end of last year, will be aware that German prosecutors are close to bringing her father, Peter, to court to answer charges of evading tax on his daughter's earnings.

Proceedings are expected to take place during the summer, and therefore could coincide with the French Open, Wimbledon or the US Open. Asked if Steffi Graf would be compelled to appear at the hearings, a spokesman for the High Court in Mannheim, said: "That is a decision for the court then. We can't say at this time."

Jennifer Capriati's ranking will be decided after the Lipton Championships, the third tournament of her second comeback following a lengthy period of disaffection, which led to drug-related problems. The Olympic champion marks her 20th birthday on 29 March.

n Tim Henman, the 21-year-old national champion from Oxford, achieved a career-high ranking of No 64 by reaching the semi-finals of last week's ATP Tour event in Rotterdam. He is now only 20 places behind his Davis Cup team-mate, Greg Rusedski.

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