Tougher tests await Seles at the Open

NEW YORK (AP) – Monica Seles crouches at the baseline, staring at her opponent and tapping the court with her racket as she awaits a serve.
She is focused only on the next ball, not the next match or next week. So she’s not inclined to dwell on her chances in this year’s U.S. Open.

I don't like to look too far ahead,'' she said.In a Grand Slam, anything can happen. Throughout my career, I learned that the hard way.”

The No. 7-seeded Seles advanced to the third round Wednesday night by beating Evgenia Koulikovskaya 6-1, 6-4. It was a workmanlike performance that offered few hints whether Seles is ready to mount a bid for her first Open title since 1992.

Her recent results say yes. Since returning from a foot injury that forced her to miss the French Open and Wimbledon, Seles has beaten Martina Hingis twice, Jennifer Capriati, Serena Williams, Jelena Dokic and Wimbledon runner-up Justine Henin.

“Each time you beat all those players, it’s a tremendous thing for your confidence,” Seles said.

But until the 27-year-old Seles makes a breakthrough in a major event, such as the Open, the perception will persist that she’s a notch below the younger top players. That’s been the case since she returned to the tour in 1995 after an on-court stabbing sidelined her for 21/2 years.

She dominated women’s tennis in the early 1990s, winning eight major titles in a three-year span, but then the cast of top players changed. Seles is not as athletic as the Williams sisters, as fit as Capriati, as creative as Hingis or as strong as Lindsay Davenport.

Seles was confronted by an unusual challenge against the 28-year-old Koulikovskaya, who alternates racket hands to hit a forehand from both sides. The Russian’s style is a bit reminiscent of Seles, who hits a two-handed forehand and backhand.

Some of my own medicine a little bit,'' she said with a laugh.It was just a little bit hard for me to read her shots.”

Seles was erratic with her serve, but solid from the baseline. The 47-minute match wasn’t much of a test for her foot speed or fitness, often her downfall in the past.

She struggles particularly against Davenport and Venus Williams, who have beaten her a combined 15 consecutive times. Their powerful shots are tough for Seles to track down because her two-handed swing limits her reach.

Seles won’t have to worry about Davenport until the semifinals, or Williams until the final. But again, she’s not looking ahead.

To win a Grand Slam,'' she said,I have to win three or four tough matches at least.”