Seles sweeps United States into Hopman Cup final

PERTH, Australia- Former world number one Monica Seles swept the United States into Saturday’s final of the Hopman Cup tennis tournament when she defeated Belgium’s Kim Clijsters in a crucial tie here Thursday night.

Showing no ill effects after a security breach at courtside the previous night, Seles won a high-powered women’s singles tussle with the 17-year-old Belgian in straight sets, 7-6 (7/4), 6-0.

The United States needed to win only one rubber against Belgium to reach the final after beating Slovakia 3-0 and Russia 2-1 earlier in the eight-day, round-robin contest at the Burswood Dome.

But for good measure the United States’ Jan-Michael Gambill clinched the men’s singles 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 and Gambill and Seles joined forces to take the mixed doubles 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7/5) as the US won the tie 3-0.

Belgium’s only way to the last two in the million dollar (554,000 US) tournament was an unlikely 3-0 beating of the US, because they had won only one of their previous two ties.

In the final the Americans will meet the winners of Friday’s mixed doubles clash between top seeds and favourites Switzerland (Martina Hingis and Roger Federer) and reigning champions South Africa (Wayne Ferreira and Amanda Coetzer).

A cautious Seles said either team would provide tough opposition in the final.

“The Swiss are playing awfully well and to my mind are the favorites, but you never know,” she said.

“South Africa, as defending champions, are terrific players and it will be a great match Friday.”

On Wednesday Seles was startled when a male spectator in his thirties broke through a security cordon to reach Seles at courtside and tap her on the shoulder.

Witnesses said Seles looked briefly shocked but soon became composed and signed an autograph for the intruder. She later dismissed the incident as “all blown out of proportion.”

Seles was stabbed by a deranged spectator at a tournament in Hamburg nearly eight years ago, causing her to leave the sport behind for two years.

In her singles clash with Clijsters, Seles, now ranked fourth in the world, had to produce her best to overcome the 19th-ranked teenager whose displays point to a bright future.

Trailing 4-5 in the opening set Seles saved four set points in the 10th game before taking it to a tiebreak.

Buoyed, she romped through the second set with some marvellous shots reminiscent of the power tennis she was known for in the early nineties.

But Seles was not entirely convinced about her own performances and said that Clijsters should be the one to look out for.

“She is terrific. She is a very aggressive player, she hits the ball with so much pace. It felt like when I hit against the guys — the pace was that fast. For only 17 years old, she is going to be a champion.

“Sometimes I played really well and sometimes I played really badly,” she said. “It was a very see-saw match. In the second set the score was 6-0, but it could have gone either way. I am just happy we are in the final.”

In another match Thursday night, Russia beat the Slovak Republic 2-1.

Slovakia’s Karina Habsudova beat Elena Likhovtseva 7-6 (7/1), 3-6, 6-3 in the women’s singles, but Russia’s world number two Marat Safin overcame Dominik Hrbaty 6-3, 0-6, 6-4 in the men’s singles and Safin and Likhovtseva claimed the decisive mixed doubles 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7/4).