Monica Seles faced the pressure of playing teen-age phenom Maria Sharapova, a 14-year-old who’s already generated considerable buzz despite playing at only her first Sanex WTA Tour event. And although the Russian youngster played a spirited first game, suggesting the match would turn into a crowd-pleasing slugfest, the match turned into a rout, with the veteran American railroading the teen-ager 6-0, 6-2.
Sharapova, half the age of her 28-year-old opponent, nearly broke Seles in the first game of the match. But after losing that game, Sharapova bowed out of the set in 23 minutes. Seles simply pounded her groundstrokes, and ended up winning most of the long baseline rallies under swirling conditions.
Despite the uneven score, Seles said she was impressed with Sharapova’s game, and the confidence she showed on the court. “She’s a terrific girl. And for her age, she’s just great,” Seles said. “If she keeps on this road, she’ll have a wonderful future. Her game reminds me of Lindsay’s [Davenport]. She hits flat and on both sides.”
Seles said she struggled with the wind in the first set, but found her groove as the wind died down. “I was happy with how I played,” Seles said. “It was good to hit a lot of balls.”
After the match, Sharapova, a finalist at this year’s Australian Open girls event, was hardly discouraged: “I’m going to remember this for my whole life. I enjoyed everything about it. It really teaches you a lot of things because you’re not playing a junior, you’re playing a pro, and today, I played against an unbelievable pro, and I think I handled it well.”
The Russian teen said she went into the match without fear, and even after dropping the first set without winning a game, she never thought about losing the match. “Even though the score was 6-0, I was doing my best,” she said.
“I need to get a little stronger, but that’ll come in the later years.”
Elsewhere on Thursday, American Meghann Shaughnessy, the No. 6 seed, defeated Martina Muller 6-2, 6-4. Another American Amy Frazier also advanced with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Nuria Llagostera Vives.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time on my conditioning and I think that’s made a big difference in my game,” said Shaughnessy, who in the past year has darted up the rankings. “[My rise in the rankings] comes just from hard work and persistence. I always knew it was going to happen. It was just when.”