Hingis and Seles to slug it out

Two of the greats of women’s tennis – Monica Seles and Martina Hingis – will lock horns when Switzerland face the United States in today’s Hopman Cup final.

The Swiss team of Martin Hingis and Roger Federer beat defending champions South Africa two rubbers to one yesterday, while the American duo of Monica Seles and Jan-Michael Gambill earned their final place with a win over Belgium on Thursday. Those results produce a women’s singles match-up tournament director Paul McNamee has been fantasising about for months, if not years – Hingis against Seles.

Both held the world No. 1 ranking during the ’90s, with Hingis currently holding top spot atop the rankings and Seles fourth in the world.

In the 13-year history of the tournament, the only singles clash that could hold a candle to today’s was the opening rubber of the 1993 final, when Germany’s Steffi Graf faced Spain’s Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.

After Hingis again took less than an hour to complete her singles assignment against Amanda Coetzer yesterday, Wayne Ferreira levelled the tie by recovering from a break down in the final set to record his first singles win of the week.

The Swiss pair then capitalised on Coetzer’s misfiring serve to win the mixed doubles 6-2 6-3 and clinch the tie.

It capped a miserable day for Coetzer, who didn’t hold serve in 10 attempts in the singles and doubles.

Hingis played two sets of almost flawless tennis against the valiant Coetzer and sounded an ominous warning for Seles, winning 6-1 6-0 in 47 minutes.

The performance of Hingis, who has dropped just five games in six sets of singles this week, illustrated the gulf between the top handful and the rest in women’s tennis.

The world No. 1 chased everything down and rarely hit a false stroke against the 11th ranked Coetzer – a fact borne out by match statistics which revealed that she didn’t make a single unforced error.

Hingis has won 12 of 14 matches against Seles and the pair last met in the final of the WTA Tour Championship in November, when Hingis won in three sets.

Seles will be chasing history as the first player to win the Hopman Cup twice today, having won it for her native Yugoslavia in 1991, while Hingis is looking to lift the mixed teams trophy for the first time.

“I’m looking forward to that – we’ve had so many exciting games,” Hingis said of her clash with Seles.

While the Swiss were facing South Africa on the main court, the hosts were facing Thailand.

Nicole Pratt and Tamarine Tanasugarn produced the longest singles match of the tournament, the local hope losing to her Thai opponent after two hours and 17 minutes on the court, 6-3 4-6 7-5.

The Thais then made it three losses in as many ties for the Australians this week, with Paradorn Srichaphan beating Richard Fromberg in straight sets in the men’s singles, 7-6 (7-3) 7-5.