Seles applies the brakes in time - Tennis
Wednesday, January 22, 1992
From Andrew Longmore, Tennis Correspondent, in Melbourne
THE hijack of the Australian Open by John McEnroe has largely relegated the women to the back seat over the past few days. But yesterday they forcibly took the wheel, their three quarter-finals providing a feast for all those who like their tennis fast and noisy.
The only disappointment was that Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere was unable to press the accelerator at all. The No.9 seed had to withdraw with an injured right foot, presenting Arantxa Sanchez Vicario with a walkover.
None of the other matches was easy, though they all went to form and were all won in straight sets. Monica Seles, in particular, had a devil of a struggle to suppress Anke Huber, the No.12 seed. Had the German showed just a fraction more composure at crucial moments, she could have gained revenge for the drubbing she took here last year at the hands of Seles.
Then, she was out-hit and overawed, managing just four games; 12 months on, at the same stage, she ran the defending champion much closer than the scoreline of 7-5, 6-3, would indicate, and, in the long run, Seles has more to worry about than Huber. Only one game was won to love, 11 went to deuce as Huber, at the age of 17 almost exactly a year younger than Seles, traded blows with the top seed and refused to buckle under the ceaseless baseline onslaught.
Huber is learning to live with the best company and, with a little more self-belief, could yet beat Seles before the year is out. "I didn't really think I could beat her before I went out," Huber said. "I just wanted to play a good game." And she did.
Only Jennifer Capriati, who was beaten by Gabriela Sabatini yesterday, and Steffi Graf have matched Seles so strongly from the back of the court. Recent defeats by Sabatini, Martina Navratilova and Linda Ferrando, in the third round of the US Open in 1990, the last time she lost in a grand slam tournament, have been inflicted by players willing to get to the net. "That is the only way you can beat her," Huber said. "But it is difficult to get to the net because she hits so hard and uses the angles so well."
The volley count four won by Huber, three by Seles was in inverse proportion to the decibel count, which, at times, reached such heights the photographers' lenses seemed in imminent danger of fragmenting. It was not pretty, by any means, but nobody could argue with the effort or the entertainment.
The Yugoslav had six points to take a 5-1 lead in the first set, but Huber saved them all valiantly and gained so much confidence from matching the iron-willed Seles at close quarters she broke back to level at 5-5 before wasting the recovery with an unforced error and a double-fault.
Huber's last chance to recover came and went in the seventh game of the second set, Seles, ever shaky on her own service, having to save three more break points before emerging the victor, 7-5, 6-3, in an hour and 50 minutes. "Sometimes you just have to slug it out," Seles said. At the moment, there is no better slugger in the game.
Huber's emergence as a genuine rival coincided with the departure of Capriati, the one player widely tipped to match Seles here. The American's first venture to Australia died in a hail of unforced errors, 42 in all. Four in succession at the start of the second-set tie-break effectively ended her challenge to Sabatini, who simply made fewer winners and fewer errors.
The scoreline of 6-4, 7-6 duplicated Mary Joe Fernandez's victory over her fellow American, Amy Frazier. The No.7 seed had to have treatment for an injured toe during the second set, but it should not stop her from facing Sabatini in her third successive Australian Open semi-final.
There was, though, disappointment for Britain in the mixed doubles when the defending champions, Jeremy Bates and Jo Durie, lost to Scott Davis and Robyn White, 6-3, 7-6.
Women's singles semi-finals: M Seles (Yug) v A Sanchez Vicario (Sp); G Sabatini (Arg) v M J Fernandez (US)