NEW YORK (Ticker) — In a fitting finale for women’s tennis at Madison Square Garden, world No. 1 Martina Hingis edged former champion Monica Seles in three thrilling sets this afternoon, capturing her second Chase Championships crown.
Hingis needed over two hours to post a 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-4 triumph over the third-seeded Seles, who possibly was making her last appearance in the $2 million season-ending event.
For the next three years, the WTA Tour has decided to move the tournament to Munich, Germany, the country where Seles was stabbed during a match in 1993. She vowed never to return after a German judge allowed her attacker to go free.
“I was very emotional,” Seles said. “You feel, well, this is it, in terms of a tournament. Hopefully, maybe in four years time the tournament will be here (again).”
But that dark incident was far from the minds of the players and vociferous but less-than-capacity crowd, which was treated to outstanding tennis.
Hingis improved to 12-2 lifetime against Seles and raised her tour-leading tournament victories this season to nine. The 20-year-old from Switzerland earned $500,000, two trophies and her 35th career title.
“Today, I was very defensive in a way,” said Hingis, a winner here in 1998 and runner-up in 1996 and 1999. “She had so much power, she took her chances, and she also served very well. It was very hard to find the angles and she was running so well. I was so surprised. Sometimes in the other matches she would get tired. Not today. She played very well.”
In a match decided by just seven points, Seles won her first set from Hingis since 1998. The two traded breaks and Hingis held for a 6-5 lead before they waged a lengthy battle in the 12th game, which went to nine deuces.
Seles saved three set points before converting on her seventh ad, hitting a forehand stab volley down the line to force a tiebreaker. She hit a forehand wide on her second set point but forced an error from Hingis to seal the set in 56 minutes.
In the second set, Hingis erased deficits of 0-2 and 2-4 as she ran Seles from side to side, forcing the two-handed player to make one-handed saves. At the changeover, she took a bathroom break while Seles had her left groin rubbed by the trainer.
They exchanged breaks at the start of the deciding set before Hingis held for a 3-1 lead. Seles finally had an easy service game, hitting four straight winners, and rode the crowd support to level the set at 3-3.
Hingis went ahead in the seventh game but double-faulted on break point on her own service game. The string of breaks continued as Seles put a backhand into the net for break point and Hingis nailed a cross-court backhand winner.
“I think (the breaks) were a combination of Martina returning so well and putting pressure on me, and I was probably pressing for more than I should have and my serve broke down a little bit,” Seles said. “And then I knew that I have to break back, and a few times, I was able to do that and I few times I wasn’t.”
After Hingis double-faulted on her first match point, she hit a 92-mph ace — her fifth of the match against nine double faults — and Seles smacked a second-serve forehand return into the net to end the match.
“I was hoping I would not play as badly as I had done the past few times against her,” Seles said. “It’s just key for me to steady my nerves and I got lucky there in the first set. Then I let Martina back during the second set. It was just too tough at the end. I think both of us were pretty tired at the end. There were probably a couple of times where I reached a wall, but I knew I really wanted to win this match, and I just tried to push through it.”
Hingis shook hands cordially with Seles before meeting her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor, at the side of the court, where she broke into tears.
“I was just so tired,” said Hingis, who fought through cramps to become the first player to win the singles and doubles crowns here since Jana Novotna in 1997. “It has been a long few weeks now, playing singles and doubles all the time. (My mother) was like, `Don’t be a baby.'”
Going without a Grand Slam title for the first time since 1996, Hingis often appeared pushed around by more powerful players this year.
She lost to Lindsay Davenport in the final of the Australian Open, Mary Pierce in the semifinals at the French Open, and to Venus Williams in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and the semifinals at the U.S. Open. However, she compiled a 77-10 record and finished the year at No. 1 for the third time in her career.
“I think that’s why I wanted to do so well here,” she said. “I think it has been very important for me to do well at the indoor tournaments to really show that — this is like the fifth Grand Slam, and to be able to win it and to come through with great tournaments and winning here, I think I deserve now the respect of being No. 1. You keep reading in the papers, `She didn’t win the Grand Slam this year.’ But I definitely had a very good season overall, and without winning a Grand Slam.”
A winner of three titles this year, Seles also captured the bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics. The former world No. 1 became the youngest player to win the season-ending championship in 1990, when she took the title at 16 years, 11 months. She successfully defended her title the next two years and owns 47 career singles crowns.
Seles only gets a few days of rest before she is back in action, playing for the United States in a semifinal tie against Belgium at the Federation Cup in Las Vegas next week.