AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — Monica Seles came to Amelia Island for the tuneup she dearly needed. She ended up with a title she didn’t expect.
Seles, the No. 2 seed, won her first tournament in seven months Sunday, closing out a dominating run at the Bausch & Lomb Championships with a 6-2, 6-3 victory against unseeded Ruxandra Dragomir.
The five games were the most Seles lost in any of her five matches, in which she dropped only a total of 14 games and never was in jeopardy of losing a set. Only Chris Evert Lloyd has a better run at this tournament, in 1981, when she dropped 12 games.
It was a better-than-expected result for a tournament that Seles had planned to simply use as a tuneup for the United States’ Federation Cup meeting next week against Croatia.
“I wanted to take this a day at a time, a point at a time,” Seles said.
“I wanted to keep working hard and in some ways that was good. I took pressure off myself. I just enjoyed every ball, every match, no matter if you win a big match, small match. I think that helped me.”
The title, which earned the world’s third-ranked player $80,000, was even more of a surprise considering Seles’ recent early exits at Indian Wells, Lipton and Hilton Head.
In the past two weeks, she traded time on the court for a more stringent training routine off it, in order to stay fresh for the Fed Cup, the women’s equivalent of the Davis Cup.
“I ran a little more,” she said. “I did that last week, too, and I lost. Tennis-wise, I haven’t hit that much this week. I think it was a good thing for me to take a break from tennis. The last four or five weeks, there had just been so much tennis.”
She got her share against Dragomir, who kept her on the court for 1 hour, 17 minutes, on a windy day on the slow, green clay of Amelia Island Plantation. Dragomir squandered game points in six games she went on to lose. She forced Seles to deuce in nine of the 17 games. Over the course of the match, however, she learned that staying on the court with Seles and beating her are very different.
“It hurt because I had some chances,” she said. “There were some (4) break points I couldn’t win. I lost my serve a few times. She was very good today. Just too good.”
Dragomir used an assortment of drop shots, most of which Seles reached without trouble, if they got over the net at all. Dragomir’s efforts to run Seles from side to side worked sporadically, but Seles combined her trademark power with the accuracy she seemed to have lost in recent weeks to overcome the challenge.
Despite the loss, Dragomir won $38,000 and moved from 38th to 33rd in the world rankings. She failed in her first attempt to win in the United States, but said she still considered the tournament a success.
“I’m very happy,” she said. “I’m happy I had a chance to play against Monica in finals instead of the second round. If you look at the score, it might have looked easy, but I think the match was a little tighter.”
This was Seles’ first victory since the Princess Cup in Tokyo last September. It was the longest drought since she went 11 months between titles in 1997-98, although Seles says she didn’t panic.
“I’m not a player who’s going to go out confident for a match,” she said. “I didn’t go out like that when I was No. 1 and only lost one or two matches a year, and I didn’t go out like that when I did terribly.”