Tennis: Hingis makes Seles suffer

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The Independent Online
Martina Hingis's triumph against Monica Seles yesterday here was as poignant as it was emphatic, 6-2, 6-1 in only 44 minutes - more akin to one of Steffi Graf's routine first-round matches in the old days than a final between the latest sensation and the one of yesteryear.

The Slovakian-born Swiss confirmed her right to become the youngest ever world No 1 tomorrow, aged 16 years six months and one day. Seles, the previous record holder, was aged 17 years, three months and 19 days in March 1991. But that was history, as became increasingly evident as the one-sided final of the Lipton Championship progressed.

It is reckoned that Seles's worst defeat was the 6-2, 6-0 loss to Hingis in their first WTA Tour meeting indoors in Oakland, California, last November but yesterday's experience came a close second. "Obviously, a loss like today is really disappointing," Seles said, "but Martina just played really well this time again, the same way she did against me in Oakland."

Hingis gave a characteristically smart, mature display, bewildering Seles with the variety of her shots - that is, when Seles was not busy damaging herself with serving errors. Seles won only one point from her four service games in the opening set, which disappeared in 19 minutes. She double-faulted six times in total, crucially to offer Hingis break points in the first and seventh games.

When spectators paused from shifting uneasily in their seats, Seles broke back for 1-1, suggesting that we might be able to settle down for a contest. But Seles continued to miss first serves and Hingis caused her to pursue lost causes or to wonder at the sureness of her opponent's touch, such as the angled backhand drop shot that edged her towards a second break in the third game.

Before Seles was able to put thoughts of her mistakes in the first set to the back of her mind, she found herself a break down at the start of the second set. She steadied herself to win the third game, but only by producing a 103mph serve after double-faulting on the first game point.

Hingis, not to be outdone in any phase of the game, moved 3-1 ahead with an ace off a second serve timed at only 76 mph - although the Swiss, who supposedly lacks power, had already shown herself capable of serving at up to 100 mph.

It was Hingis's 26th consecutive win of a year which has seen her achieve the first of what promises to be many Grand Slam singles titles, at the Australian Open in January. Worryingly for Seles, playing her first tournament since breaking a finger in December, it was the most comfortable of Hingis's wins here. En route to the final she had dropped sets against Patricia Hy-Boulais, Venus Williams (another 16-year-old) and Elena Likhovtseva.

Hingis received a cheque for $215,000, which made her the fastest player ever to earn $1m in prize money in a single season. "I want to thank all the people who made this tournament such a great event for me," Hingis said. "I want to thank Lipton, but I can't thank Rado, because Omega is my sponsor." She is evidently unaware that they belong to the same Swiss company.