Wimbledon '97: Testud a test too far for Seles

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Monica Seles, one of the darlings of People's Sunday, showed she does not like Mondays yesterday. The No 2 seed, a constant underachiever at the All England Club, was helped out of this year's championships 0-6, 6-4, 8-6 by the world No 23, Sandrine Testud, of France.

Seles's dismissal will hurt those who supported her raucously through a second-round match with Katrina Brandi on Sunday. The naturalised American has become a popular figure in SW19 since misfortune planted several kisses on her cheek. Over two years of her career disappeared when she was stabbed in Hamburg and, more recently, her father Karolj was struck down by cancer.

After her defeat Seles promised she would return to Wimbledon and attempt to fill newsprint for reasons more glorious and pertinent than her weight and grunting habit. "I would love to win Wimbledon and hopefully I have a few more years to try at it," she said. "I still believe I can win it and I don't believe I would be out there if that wasn't the case."

The scene of the capitulation was the airy No 3 Court, where the visible cameras are on the fringes of the arena and not mounted in machine-gun nests as elsewhere on the campus. The immediate projectiles on the battle ground came from Seles.

Testud won just nine points in a first set that occupied 21 minutes of clean destruction from Seles. There was little in the way of sweet science as the American clubbed away on either wing with the finality of an assassin on the ice floe. At the beginning of the second set, however, there arrived a sea change. "She [Testud] started playing well on the key points and never gave up," Seles reported later. "She stopped making a lot of unforced errors and was serving very well when it counted."

The No 2 seed's relative immobility was exposed by a series of drop shots, and the continued openings created by her murderous ground shots were negated by a failure to advance. Seles treats a net with the the same suspicion as a sockeye salmon, an element highlighted by the fact she did not play a single smash in the match.

At the beginning of the third set, the whiff of an upset was around a court packed to the gunwales and later augmented by spectators pogoing and climbing on friends' shoulders behind the canvas backstop. Seles gave her supporters a lift by assembling a 5-2 lead in the decider by employing superior court craft and experience.

If, for simplicity's sake, a turning point has to be identified, it came when she was serving for the match at 5-3. A forehand from Testud was called long by the baseline judge but right by the umpire, Jane Harvey. The overrule left Seles at 0-30 and with a gremlin of disenchantment in her mind. "It didn't come at a great time, but I still shouldn't have let it bother me that much," she said. "I was mumbling to myself a little bit in that game and the next, too."

After that incident the fibres began snapping in the rope connecting Seles to the championships. There was the fleeting luxury of a match point at 6-5, but an ace down the middle, her sixth of the match, gave Testud a place in the fourth round two games later. "I think that women's tennis has improved a lot in the last few months and I think everybody is now beatable," the woman from Lyon said. "I mean, even the top 10 players, if they have a day when they don't play well it can be dangerous for them and they can lose."

The 25-year-old Seles is as svelte as she has been for some time and she had a simple explanation for her new figure. "Love," she said. Seles's proportions have attracted greater interest this fortnight, following the grunting Wimbledon of 1992, when her exhalations were compared with the noise that comes from the honeymoon suite.

Now some seem to be suggesting she is on the bulky side, and if Seles does indeed have a form from a Rubens canvas it is only in comparison with other near-skeletal bodies in the women's locker-room. "I don't think I'm at the ideal physical shape I would like to be," she said this week.

Seles is more a rounded figure in another sense these days, and there were no histrionics after her defeat as she later went out to partner Anke Huber successfully in a women's doubles. There are, she understands, other things to worry about than the sticks and stones from the Fourth Estate. "To me it's hurtful a few times when they ask me questions and they are putting words in my mouth," she said this week. "But my Dad taught me to take all that in good spirits and I know now that all comes with the territory."

Dad, who is also coach, could not be here this week as stomach cancer has confined him to his Florida home. He has attempted to watch his daughter's games live on television, but the excitement became such that he removed himself from the armchair and later watched tapes only after learning of the result.

"It's really tough not to have my Dad here and that's a little bit of why my game is suffering," Seles said. "It's a pretty tough time I'm going through right now, so I can't say I'm in the happiest period of my life in the last five years. It's a tough stage for me and I've just got to stick through it.

"But this is only a game, a sport, that I'm playing and what's going on outside in my life is much bigger than that."