THE five break points saved and seven deuces survived by Monica Seles in the roller coaster eight game of the second set neatly encapsulated the tremendously competitive and highly dramatic nature of the opening doubles in last night’s Europe/USA showdown at the RDS.
Seles, partnered by fellow singles former world number one Lindsey Davenport, eventually held service in that titanic game against Europe’s Iva Majoli and Barbara Schett to take a 5-3 lead.
But that didn’t prove the only similar nerve jangling game during the course of a richly absorbing 88 minutes of action which eventually saw the American pairing prevail on a 7-6 (7-4) 6-1, to give the Americans a 3-0 lead.
Seles was also involved in a serving capacity in the third game of the first set, when she was forced to save three break points and survive five deuces. Ironically, however, the Yugoslav born player was the only member of the quarted on court not to have her serve broken.
Exhibition matches obviously enough are not always for real, and it occasionally happens that a stronger player will ‘carry’ a weaker opponent to extend a game beyond its normal time span as a means of sustaining the interests of the fans.
But there was certainly nothing contrived about last night’s curtain raiser. All four players performed with tremendous verve, energy and commitment throughout, and as a result the fans were treated to a truly magnificent spectacle.
The authenticity of the contest was underlined in the 12th game of the second set which the American duo could easily let go to a third set if they had so desired.
After a tremendous piece of all out ground stroke slugging by Seles and Majoli on the baseline, Schett forced a wide forehand off Davenport, and that resulted in a point for the second set for the European pairing at 30-40.
Another point in the host’s continent favour would of course have levelled the match at one set each. But Seles forced a netted forehand from Majoli to level at deuce.
And after 1997 French open singles champion Majoli had returned a service wide, Seles levelled the second set at 6-6 thanks to a stunning ace to Austrian Schett.
That resulted in a tie break in which the issue was never in any doubt. Croatian Majoli served a double fault to provide the Americans with a 3-1 lead, and then the same player made another inexplicable error when misjudged a return from Seles which just landed inside the baseline.
A backhand winner from Davenport stretched the Americans’ lead to 5-1, but Schett provided the Europeans with some hope when she forced a netted return off Davenport for 2-5.
However, Schett lost the next two points in her serve, Davenport putting away a forehand volley and then Seles following up with a fiercely driven back hand volley down the middle of the court.
The two Europeans were disappointed with the result but they were unsurprisingly quite pleased with their performance in the second set.
“It was a very difficult match for us because we’ve only played together three times before, and of course in Monica and Lindsay, we wre up against two of the top players in the world,” said Majoli, who although being the first player to serve an ace was also the first to lose her serve on the second break point to provide the Americans with a 3-1 lead in the first set.