Tennis: Spirlea slices through Van Roost's defences

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The Independent Online
IN THE first quarter-final of the women's end of season finale, the Chase Championships, the Romanian Irina Spirlea comfortably defeated Dominique Van Roost, of Belgium, 6-2, 6-3 in 54 minutes at Madison Square Garden, New York, last night.

The foundation of Spirlea's victory was strong serving, fierce driving off the forehand wing and subtle changes of pace and direction using her sliced backhand. Her occasional use of deft drop shots was also unnerving for an opponent who is happiest when hitting the ball hard from the baseline. But the Belgian world No 15 was by no means disgraced by her performance. Spirlea now leads 5-1 in matches between the two players. She will meet either Mary Pierce or Martina Hingis in the semi-final.

Monica Seles once ruled these championships. Now she hopes a "lucky" victory over Anna Kournikova will help break her recent jinx and fortify her for a showdown with her great rival, Steffi Graf.

Seles, weakened since Sunday by a mysterious stomach ailment, exploited 17 double-faults by the Russian teenager and achieved a 6-4, 6-3 victory on Wednesday night, her first at Madison Square Garden since winning the event for the third successive time in 1992.

"I have had just terrible luck here the past four years since I have come back," said Seles, who also missed a couple of championships after being stabbed in Hamburg in 1993. Then, in 1996, she had to default against Kimiko Date because of a shoulder injury. Last year she lost "one of the worst matches" of her career to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

The bad streak could well continue, since Seles must meet a rejuvenated Graf, winner of her last two tournaments after coming back from an injury- disrupted season. Graf vanquished the Wimbledon champion and title holder, Jana Novotna, in her opening match at Madison Square Garden.

After posting her first win in the event for six years, Seles said she was looking forward to playing Graf in yesterday evening's match. Graf has won this event five times and Seles trails the 29-year-old 8-4 in career meetings, but she has not faced the German since losing to her in the final of the 1996 US Open.

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