Seles looks strong in exhibition win over Kournikova

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Monica Seles showed no effects of the foot injury that hampered her last season and beat Anna Kournikova 7-6 (6), 6-4 Saturday night in the Minnesota Tennis Challenge.

A crowd of 9,244 showed up for the exhibition at the Xcel Energy Center.

Seles, who finished the 2002 season ranked No. 7 on the WTA tour, had her return game working well and served three aces in the final game to finish off Kournikova.

Just because the match was an exhibition didn’t mean Seles and Kournikova didn’t care.

Kournikova, who led 5-3 in the first set, slammed a ball into the net after losing a point during the tiebreaker and earlier glared at the umpire when he read the score wrong.

”It’s 30-all,” she said with a shake of her head and a slight roll of her eyes.

Kournikova, ranked No. 35 and known more for her bare midriff than her success on tour, kept Seles busy on the baseline but faded in the second set.

Still searching for her first tour title, Kournikova will play in the Sydney International in January to tune up for the Australian Open.

Though Seles is eight years older and far more accomplished than Kournikova, the two are friends and have faced off in a number of exhibitions. They left St. Paul on Saturday night for Canada, where they were scheduled to play Sunday in another friendly in Winnipeg.

This was the first match in the Twin Cities area involving major pro players since Team USA beat Sweden in 1992 Davis Cup competition in Minneapolis.

The inexperience showed. A couple fans were chided by the umpire for yelling just before a serve, and Kournikova was annoyed on more than one occasion by ballgirls and judges being out of position.

Kournikova had never played in Minnesota before, and the last time Seles competed here was in a 1991 exhibition against Mary Jo Fernandez. Seles was the top-ranked player in the world at the time.

As a prelude, the flamboyant doubles duo of Luke and Murphy Jensen wearing Minnesota Wild jerseys and wireless microphones faced the University of Minnesota’s top doubles team in an eight-game pro set.

Aleksey Zharinov and Thomas Haug overcame a constant stream of good-natured taunting and ”won” 8-7.

After an unforced error by Zharinov, Luke Jensen said, ”I’m sorry, Gophers. Is the net high?”

Murphy responded, ”That’s only the second point, Luke.”

”I know, but it’s going good,” Jensen said.

David Wheaton, a Minnesotan who played 13 years on the ATP tour and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1991, was the emcee.

Once during the doubles match, Wheaton asked the Jensens, ”What do you think Anna’s doing right now? Doing her hair?”

Wheaton, who’s growing a bit thin on top, didn’t know Kournikova was watching.

”I’m sorry you don’t have any hair to do,” she said with a laugh.

The event also included abridged matches between some of the state’s top girls and boys players as well as a ”celebrity” doubles competition mixing the Jensens with a pair of Twin Cities radio deejays.

Former Vikings defensive end Carl Eller, one of the ”Purple People Eaters,” had a courtside seat.