Seles back in final at Italian Open

ROME (AP) — Monica Seles is back in the Italian Open finals, 10 years after her only victory in Rome launched her into tennis stardom.

The hard-hitting left-hander looked like the Seles of old Saturday, hitting winners from both sides and giving no quarter in a 54-minute drubbing of unranked Corina Morariu.

Seles’ 6-3, 6-1 win sets up a final against France’s Amelie Mauresmo, who rolled over Fabiola Zuluaga of Colombia, 6-1, 6-2 in the other semifinal.

But the story on Rome’s red clay this week has been Seles, who’s cranked up her game exactly a decade after she beat her idol, Martina Navratilova, to capture the 1990 Italian Open at the age of 16.

Seles would followed that win a month later with a French Open title, her first of eight Grand Slams in a 30-month stretch.

Ten years is a long time,'' Seles said after the match.It’s been a fantastic time, lots of highs, lots of lows and lots of in-the-middle’s. But in all that time I’ve never lost my love of the game.”

The 26-year-old American still has a fearsome attack of two-handed forehands and backhands that can still decimate opponents.

That was the Seles of Saturday. Without the mental lapses of her three-set quarterfinal win, she wasted no time disposing of Morariu, an American ranked 43rd on the WTA tour, with a reputation for inconsistency.

“I just told myself before the match that if I win the first set, just to stay on top of her, and not let it get away like I did the last couple of matches,” said Seles, who was pushed to three sets on Thursday and Friday.

The 6-3, 6-1 win was identical to the result of Seles’ only previous meeting with Morariu, earlier this year at the clay-court tournament in Amelia Island.

Seeded No. 5, Seles hit 17 winners, while Morariu committed 22 errors on the way to losing the final two games without a point. Seles will be playing in her fourth Italian Open final, having lost to Gabriela Sabatini^Eds: AMs, RECASTS, INSERTS Seles quotes.< in 1991 and 1992.

Her opponent Sunday will be 12th-seeded Mauresmo, who cruised past the tiring, unseeded Zuluaga.

Mauresmo may offer a new hope for her countrymen heading into the French Open, having rolled into the finals of the Rome clay-court tournament while losing just one set.

It's good to play well from beginning to end in a tournament,'' she said, after her semifinal win.I hope it’s going to give me confidence for Roland Garros.”

Mauresmo, who reached the semifinals last year at Foro Italico, won the Sydney tournament earlier this year with wins over Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport.