Seles back with impressive win at Bausch & Lomb

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — Her victory complete, her title secured, Monica Seles immediately looked to the crowd and applauded. She knows how fickle fans — and tennis — can be.

Just two weeks removed from the worst loss of her career, Seles smoothed over doubts about her health and desire Sunday, winning a repeat title in the Bausch & Lomb Championships with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Conchita Martinez.

After match point, the third-seeded Seles acknowledged the crowd, putting her racquet and hand together to applaud. It was a quite different interaction than two weeks ago in the Ericsson Open, when she was showered with boos after a 6-0, 6-0 semifinal loss to Martina Hingis.

Different experiences make you as a person,'' Seles said.That was one of the harder experiences of my life. But I don’t think everyone understood the whole story.”

Seles’ ankle was bothering her that day and many people were wondering if the ninth-ranked player in the world still had what it took to grit it out against the best in the world.

She showed signs of that at Amelia Island Plantation, dominating four matches over the span of 48 hours after rain washed out nearly a full two days’ worth of play.

“It was great that I was able to hold up, both physically and emotionally,” Seles said.

Earlier in the day, Seles defeated Paola Suarez 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the final. Fourth-seeded Martinez beat 12th-seeded Elena Likhovtseva by the same score to set up another meeting in one of the most lopsided series on tour.

Seles improved to 18-1 lifetime against Martinez. Over 11 years in this series, Martinez has won only three sets. In the past year, Seles has surrendered only 16 games to the Spaniard, who celebrated her 28th birthday Sunday.

Conchita's style suits me very well,'' Seles said.You always have players you like to play and players you don’t like to play. Conchita is one of the ones I like to play.”

No kidding.

Martinez enjoyed only one highlight during her 1-hour, 12-minute stay on center court — a postmatch rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” from the crowd that obviously felt for the overmatched runner-up.

Seles took control of points early, dictating pace and nullifying Martinez’ efforts to play the off-pace game that has served her well over the years.

Martinez seemed to sense her fate, walking around with a bemused look and muttering to herself, especially after Seles started painting lines with her patented two-handed forehand early in the first set.

It's probably mental,'' Martinez said.You try to change a little. But I’m not going to serve and volley or go to net more because I won’t be comfortable doing that. You just try to go for your shots a little more because she hits so hard and puts a lot of pressure on.”

About the only drama occurred early in the second set when a ballboy, Josh Glisson, briefly passed out. He walked off the court under his own power and tournament officials said he was OK.

Seles earned $87,000 for the victory, the 46th singles championship of her career. She hasn’t lost a set in her two years of dominance at Amelia Island.

It was a much better experience than at the Ericsson.

And many of those who were wondering if she should retire might be second-guessing themselves now, especially considering Seles has only lost three matches this year, all to the top two players in the world.

I just like living in the present,'' Seles said.I don’t dwell too much on the past. Maybe that’s why I played so well this week.”