HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Monica Seles was looking for a sign of success in the Family Circle Cup.
She finally found one on center court on Thursday.
While Seles, ranked third, was losing the second set to ninth-seeded Elena Likhovtseva, she noticed a sign in the top rows that said “Monica rules the clay.”
“Thank God that’s true today,” said Seles, who with the crowd’s support pulled out a third-set tiebreaker to beat Likhovtseva 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5) and reach the quarterfinals.
Seles won the season’s first clay court tournament at Amelia Island, Fla., last week, and continued her strong play against Likhovtseva, who ousted Seles here in this round a year ago.
This time, Seles fought back when Likhovtseva blitzed through the second set and led 6-5 in the third. The seven-time Grand Slam champion nailed a 103 mph ace and zipped a forehand past Likhovtseva to force the tiebreaker.
Seles was defeated in third-set tiebreakers at Sea Pines Racquet Club in the 1997 finals by Martina Hingis and the 1998 semifinals by Irina Spirlea. She trailed 2-0 in this one.
With the packed crowd calling her name and urging her on, Seles hit a laser-like backhand winner to take her first lead, 4-3. Likhovtseva saved two match points before pushing a forehand wide and Seles was spared another close defeat here.
I think I was really frustrated with my serve today and it just let me down a lot in the match,'' said Seles, who will next face 11th-seeded Ruxandra Dragomir.I let Elena come back tons of times and here I said `This is happening in the tiebreak.’ I was lucky she just missed that shot on match point.”
Seles has already had a memorable season, winning at Oklahoma City and Amelia Island and reaching the semifinals of the Ericsson Open in which she lost to Hingis 6-0, 6-0. Seles knows she’s still far from the form that won three straight French Opens from 1990-92.
I'm playing some good tennis periods, but also I have huge drops in my game,'' Seles said.Today, I definitely had some huge drops and then I had some really good highs, so hopefully, I’ll get a little bit more consistent in a couple of aspects of my game.”
Likhovtseva said she would close in and overtake Seles, then wait for her opponent to falter. “She’s not the kind of player who does that too often,” Likhovtseva said.
No one will likely come close to Seles’ fan support. Despite never winning in three previous tries, Seles was the runaway favorite of the gallery.
They “really helped me to regroup a lot there and just know that, OK, people are still believing in you even if you are not at this point in your own self,” she said.