Seles storms to victory

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The Independent Online

Hold off on that retirement party for Monica Seles. She's not quite ready yet.

Showing that her game and her competitive fire are still in tact, Seles captured a repeat title on Sunday at the Bausch and Lomb Championships in Amelia Island, Florida.

Her 6-3, 6-2 victory over Conchita Martinez culminated a weekend in which she looked like anything but an injured has-been who people had begun to look past after a humiliating loss two weeks ago.

Hobbling on an injured ankle, she was booed off the court after a 6-0, 6-0 loss to Martina Hingis in the semi-finals of the Ericsson Open. As bad as it was, it didn't signify the end of her career, or the death of her yearning to compete.

"That match was very difficult," the 26-year-old Seles said. "What happened there, I don't want to put too much emphasis on. For me, it boils down to the fact that I really love to play tennis. I just want to keep trying to be a better player and win more grand slams."

She has nine already and looked good in the first clay-court tuneup for the French Open in six weeks.

"It was great that I was able to hold up, both physically and emotionally," Seles said after playing four matches in two days due to bad weather.

Earlier on Sunday, the third-seeded Seles defeated Paola Suarez 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the final. Fourth-seeded Martinez beat 12th-seeded Elena Likhovtseva by the same score to set up another meeting in one of the most lopsided series on tour.

Seles improved to 18-1 lifetime against Martinez. Over 11 years in this series, Martinez has won only three sets. In the past year, Seles has surrendered only 16 games to the Spaniard, who celebrated her 28th birthday on Sunday.

"Conchita's style suits me very well," Seles said. "You always have players you like to play and players you don't like to play. Conchita is one of the ones I like to play."

No kidding.

Martinez enjoyed only one highlight during her 1-hour, 12-minute stay on centre court - a postmatch rendition of "Happy Birthday" from the crowd that obviously felt for the overmatched runner-up.

Seles took control of points early, dictating pace and nullifying Martinez' efforts to play the off-pace game that has served her well over the years.

Martinez seemed to sense her fate, walking around with a bemused look and muttering to herself, especially after Seles started painting lines with her patented two-handed forehand early in the first set.

"It's probably mental," Martinez said. "You try to change a little. But I'm not going to serve and volley or go to net more because I won't be comfortable doing that. You just try to go for your shots a little more because she hits so hard and puts a lot of pressure on."

Seles earned $87,000 for the victory, the 46th singles championship of her career. She hasn't lost a set in her two years of dominance at Amelia Island.

It was a welcome change after the debacle in Miami.

"I just like living in the present," Seles said. "I don't dwell too much on the past. Maybe that's why I played so well this week."

Results from the $535,000 Bausch and Lomb Championships in Amelia Island, Florida:

Singles Semi-finals

(3) Monica Seles (US) def. (4) Conchita Martinez (Sp) 6-3, 6-2.

Singles Semi-finals

(3) Monica Seles (US) def. Paola Suarez (Arg) 6-3, 6-2. (4) Conchita Martinez (Sp) def. (12) Elena Likhovtseva (Rus) 6-3, 6-2.

Doubles Quarter-finals

(3) Conchita Martinez, and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (Sp) def. (8) Rita Grande (It) and Elena Likhovtseva (Rus) 6-1, 6-3.

NOTE: The doubles draw was abandoned after the quarter-finals due to weather.