The Rebif MS Tennis Classic has brought top-level women’s professional tennis to Denver for three years, and Monica Seles has been the one constant.
Winning the singles exhibition event has been a constant for Seles, too. Thursday night at the University of Denver’s Magness Arena, Seles once again didn’t disappoint.
Facing the venerable Martina Navratilova before an appreciative crowd of about 4,000, Seles won the singles event for the third year in a row, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
But it wasn’t nearly as easy as it was last year for Seles, who disposed of Anna Kournikova in straight sets 6-2, 6-2.
Navratilova, whose 167 singles titles are more than anyone in the world, gave the crowd a show. She mockingly dropped her racket in disgust on a close call by the linesman that didn’t go her way, and she laughed and danced along the baseline after a few serves.
Seles also appeared to enjoy herself, laughing and smiling at Navratilova’s antics.
But if the mood was light, the tennis was serious, as Seles’ trademark grunts could attest. The first set went to a tiebreaker after serve was held throughout by each player, with Seles winning the tiebreaker and match 7-6 (7-4) by tapping Navratilova’s final serve just over the net, where it couldn’t be returned.
“I think my serve helped me a lot,” Seles said. “That I could hold my serve through the game, and through the tiebreaker, I was a little bit lucky for a while. But it made a big difference and put a little less pressure on me.”
Seles, ranked No. 4 in the world, mentioned during a news conference Wednesday that Navratilova, who at age 45 is ranked 72nd in the world, would have an advantage because she lived in Aspen and was more acclimated to the altitude. But Seles broke Navratilova’s serve in the first game of the second set and went on to win 6-2 to close out the match.
“It’s like any time you play your friends on the tour,” Seles said. “Once you step on the court, it’s business. Once we step off, we’re totally friends. I just try to be aggressive. In these conditions, you hit or miss. When I saw that Martina was going to keep the ball low, I just had to bend my knees and just accelerate and go for it.”
The mood of the evening turned even lighter in the doubles event, with comedian Jon Lovitz umpiring. Retired tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez, who gave birth to a daughter 11 months ago, teamed with Seles to beat Navratilova and rising tennis star Corina Morariu 9-7 in a one-set match.
In the first singles event of the night, Sara Anundsen of Columbine High School beat Nicole Leimbach of Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs 6-2 in a one-match exhibition. Anundsen is a two-time state champion who has committed to the University of North Carolina.
All proceeds from the event will benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Rocky Mountain MS Center.