Seles rusty in return vs. Smash

WILMINGTON — Monica Seles, the former No. 1 women’s tennis player in the world, threw the ball up for a serve and dropped it.

“Sorry,” she said to the crowd with an innocent smile.

“No problem,” a fan quipped back. Seles, after all, was the person the crowd at the AstraZeneca Tennis Facility paid to see.

Appearing fit and happy, Seles took the court Thursday night for the first time since fracturing a bone in her left foot in May 2003 in Rome.

With a local police officer flanking her on the team bench, Seles played three matches, losing all of them, as the Delaware Smash came away with a 23-19 win over Seles’ New York Sportimes before a crowd of 2,150.

“I felt fine out there. It was very good,” said Seles, who had a line of about 100 people waiting for autographs after the match. “The crowd was into it. I did what I wanted to do.”

Seles said she just began hitting for points in practice a few days ago, but she told Sportimes coach John Roddick she felt good enough to play all three matches.

The WTA Tour’s No. 1-ranked player in 1991 and ’92, Seles is getting back into the game in World TeamTennis. She recently said this would be her last attempt at a comeback.

Her most competitive test came from Delaware’s Samantha Reeves. As the points got bigger, Seles went from being quiet in her returns to letting out some of the trademark grunts fans gave come to expect from her.

With the score tied 13-13, Seles and Reeves went back and forth in their match with Reeves taking a 5-4 (5-3) win in a tiebreaker. Seles put her team in front 17-16 before Reeves won the final two points to give the Smash (3-0) an 18-17 lead heading into the final set.

“I started to get more comfortable,” Seles said. “I was just trying to hit a lot of balls.”

Seles said she still plans on playing at the U.S. Open in August.

In the final doubles match, Seles teamed with Bea Bielik, losing to Reeves and Liezel Huber, 5-2.

Seles teamed with Hermes Gamonal in mixed doubles, losing to David Wheaton and Huber, 5-4 (5-4).

The Sportimes came roaring back with a win at men’s singles as Rajeev Ram, playing for Smash starter Paul Goldstein, lost 5-3 to Gamonal. Ram held a 3-2 lead, but lost three straight points to Gamonal.

In the first match of the night, Wheaton and Ram beat Gamonal and Joe Sirianni in a tiebreak, 5-4 (5-3).