Seles beats Mauresmo and crowd with a little luck

PARIS (AP) — When her final backhand clipped the net cord, popped up a few inches and trickled over to give her the victory, Monica Seles didn’t bother with the traditional and rather silly hands-up sign of apology. Instead, she simply sighed deeply and strolled to the net, taking that bit of good fortune as payment due after a long, long streak of bad luck.

In reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Amelie Mauresmo on a chilly, rainy Sunday, the No. 3 Seles took another step forward in a sentimental journey at a tournament she won three straight times in happier days from 1990 to 1992.

Seles has known more than her share of bad luck over the years, from the stabbing she suffered in 1993 to the incredible string of injuries and ailments that have plagued her since. At the moment, she’s bothered only by bronchitis and sinusitis that require energy-sapping antibiotics, minor stuff for her. A stress fracture in her right foot sidelined her for five months until February. When Seles is healthy and playing regularly, she is still, at 26, one of the toughest players in women’s tennis. She proved that in recent months by winning three tournaments, including the Italian Open, in her best start to a year on the tour since 1992. Against the No. 13 Mauresmo, the most popular of the French players, Seles had to overcome not only a strong, fast, aggressive opponent, but a crowd that cheered Seles’ errors and often chanted “Am-el-ie” when Seles stepped up to serve.

“In Rome, I had the whole stadium behind me, here I had the whole stadium really against me,” said Seles, who beat Mauresmo by a similar score a few weeks ago. Yet, Seles never was one to wither meekly on the court, while the pressure to win may have been too much for Mauresmo, who double-faulted on set-point in the first set. A telling point, if not a turning point, came in the second game of the second set after Mauresmo broke Seles for a 1-0 lead that might have gotten the Frenchwoman back into the match. Now, Seles had break-point on Mauresmo and capitalized on it quickly with a sharply angled forehand crosscourt that touched the edge of the sideline. Mauresmo couldn’t believe it. She walked up to the spot, stared at it, and kicked it in disgust.

The set was even again, an opportunity lost for Mauresmo, and she never again led. At 4-3, Seles broke her once more, with the help of another double-fault by Mauresmo and a forehand long on the last two points.

Seles then closed out the match on her serve with that lucky net cord, knowing a little luck is nothing to take for granted. In truth, Seles never did take anything for granted.

My mentality, really from junior tournaments on, was I always think I'm going to lose this match,'' she said.Some players (think), ‘I’m going to win this match,’ even before it starts. I’m very negative toward myself. I’ve been trying for many years to change that. That’s just the way, I guess, my brain works. I go in thinking, ‘This might be the last match I play at this tournament.’ That’s kind of what I’m doing, and it really hasn’t changed at all.”

Next up for Seles is another Frenchwoman, No. 6 Mary Pierce, who beat Asa Carlsson 6-2, 6-1.