Tennis: Wimbledon 99 - Lukic manages to exploit Seles' lack of conviction

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The Independent Online
MONICA SELES has never won Wimbledon and probably never will. Her back-court game is not suited to grass and, plump at the age of 25, her chances are diminishing by the year. Certainly she has blown her chance in 1999 after being beaten by Mirjana Lucic in the third round.

On paper the fourth seed should have beaten the 17-year-old Croat but on grass, Seles' least favourite surface, percentages diminish with lack of belief. Seles lost an epic against Steffi Graf in the final of 1992 and has lacked conviction ever since. Yesterday's 7-6, 7-6 defeat was the best she deserved.

It was not Lucic's serve that was constantly under threat but Seles' and only when she was 4-3 ahead and a service break up in the second set did she look likely to take anything from the match. That door was closed with a vengeance.

"I had tons of chances in the second set," Seles said. "If I could pinpoint anything that was wrong it was my returns." Had her career hit a wall? "I don't know," she replied.

Lucic was 6-0 up in the first tie-break before closing it out 7-4 and was 4-2, 5-3 and 6-4 in front before she sealed match point with a backhand volley crosscourt. Her victory was a triumph that resonated beyond Wimbledon and into her background.

There is a legion of strange parents in tennis, but Lucic's father could have been the most brutal and odd of them all. As a youngster she won the junior US and Australian Open titles and was considered to be the next genius on the production line, but behind this facade of success Marinko Lucic was exercising a reign of terror.

After last year's Wimbledon she ran away from his beatings, but the bruises are still there. "My father is nowhere in my life now," she said. "The difference between before and now is that I have my family only as support. I look at the box where they are sitting and I only hear `come on, let's go'. That's really what I want... That's why I'm doing well again."

Just for a moment yesterday the worst fears of Wimbledon's security team appeared to be realised. Anna Kournikova was on court when suddenly a spectator appeared on the edge of Court Two's lawn. You can imagine the consternation.

Well, you cannot actually. The spectator was trying to get to his seat and had accidentally stepped on the turf. The fact he was on the other side of the net from the Russian, too, told its own story. It is amazing, though, how Kournikova seems to attract these incidents.

"I don't know what happened," she said after reaching the fourth round when her opponent Ines Gorrochategui retired with a knee injury at 7-5, 3-1 down, "but I turned round and he was already leaving. We're very close to the crowd on Court Two but I don't think it represents any danger."

Indeed, rather than condemn the claustrophobic conditions she praised them. "I like it when the courts are small and the spectators are near," she said. "It feels cosy and warm and you feel that you have less space to play and run. The game seems faster."

The day began with a familiar rhythm because Kournikova had also been the first match on Court Two on Wednesday and a routine has been established: opponent comes on to polite applause, Anna to a standing ovation that turns into wolf whistles when she removes her tracksuit top.

The result sets up a match for the 17th seed that should test the Russian's mettle, a clash of the teenagers against the sixth seeded Venus Williams, who defeated France's Sarah Pitowski 6-1, 6-1. "She has a big serve and she is a big girl," Kournikova said. "I will have to out-think her."

Apart from Seles, two other seeds fell yesterday. Amanda Coetzer, the not-so-mighty atom and 12th seed, was beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Kim Clijsters while Sandrine Testud, the No 13 seed, was beaten 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 by Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn.

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