Monica Seles was booed off the court after losing, 6-0, 6-0, to Martina Hingis in the semi-finals of the Ericsson Open here yesterday. It was the first whitewash of her career, and the 26-year-old former world No 1 practically brought the humiliation on herself by playing while carrying an ankle injury.
"When I saw she wasn't moving well, and was making faces like she was in pain, I was surprised she didn't quit the match," said Hingis, the reigning No 1. Seles won only 21 points during the 39 minutes on the 14,000-capacity Stadium Court, and two of them were break points against Hingis's serve which she was unable to covert at 0-4 in the second set.
Asked about the crowd's reaction, Seles said: "They definitely wanted a closer match than what happened, and I think serving two double faults at the end didn't help."
Spectators began whistling derisively after Seles hit a couple of service returns long in the third game of the second set. "Not everyone knows what's going on behind the scenes," Hingis said. "Monica just wasn't herself today."
Irrespective of whether the spectators were aware of Seles's injury - and it may have seemed to some that she was not moving well because of a lack of conditioning - their reaction was an affront to a player renowned for her courageous spirit, both on the court and off it. The majority of people in the sport think it remarkable that Seles is still playing on the WTA Tour after the trauma of being stabbed in the back by a spectator at the German Open in Hamburg in April 1993. She returned to win the Australian Open, her ninth Grand Slam singles title, and reached the final of the French Open in 1998, a short time after the death of her father and coach, Karolj.
"She's just a great champion," said Hingis, whom Seles defeated in the semi-finals at the French Open two years ago. That was the first of Seles's two wins against the 19-year-old Swiss, who has won their 10 other contests. "I didn't let her into the match today. I thought I played pretty smart."
"I wasn't able to move today," Seles said, "but Martina has just played much better, more consistently, especially in the last four matches."
Asked if she would consider retiring from the sport, Seles, ranked No 7, said: "I have no idea. I'm just thinking about being healthy."
Pete Sampras advanced to the men's semi-finals with a 6-4, 7-6 win over Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador, and will play either Lleyton Hewitt, of Australia, or the American Jan Michael Gambill.
There has been much discussion about Tim Henman's defeat by Andre Agassi in the quarter-finals, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6, after failing to serve the match out at 5-4 in the final set and waving goodbye to four match points in a tie-break, one with a double-fault.
Agassi's assessment of Henman's performance was a mixed review. "I thought he played really well," the world No 1 said. "He fought hard and kept the match real competitive when I thought it could have got away from him - believe it or not - early in the second set, and the third, as well. He played real well on some big points when he was down, and then didn't quite play as well when he had the big points to put the match away.
"It's tough. It's difficult to do both - being down, finding a way to get back into it, then finding your opportunity and converting. It would be a heck of a match if he did that.
"I think sometimes he rushes his decision-making out there. When he was up and on the verge of winning, I felt he maybe force things a little too much. He's good enough really to wait for his opportunity."
Agassi has played better, and he was encouraged to win a match that ought to have belonged to his opponent. "Getting through these matches is good from a psychological and confidence standpoint," he said. "Teaching yourself to just keep executing your shots and to keep hitting and not worry if things don't go quite as well as you planned."
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