FERNANDEZ,SELES MEET FOR TITLE
Friday, January 24, 1992
Mary Joe Fernandez has tried to forget that backhand, the one she hit into the net at match point against Monica Seles in last year's Australian Open semifinals.
Seles went on to beat Fernandez 6-3, 0-6, 9-7, then defeated Jana Novotna in the final. Seles claimed the No. 1 ranking and has not lost a Grand Slam since.
Fernandez never got any closer to her first Grand Slam title in 1991, but she returns to Flinders Park on Saturday (9 tonight, ESPN) to take another shot at Seles and that elusive milestone.
''I'm just happy to be in the final again,'' said Fernandez, who lost the 1990 final, her first Grand Slam final, to Steffi Graf. ''It doesn't matter who I play. I just want to win my first Grand Slam. I've tried to forget last year's match with Monica. This is going to be a new match. I've played her many times since then.''
Fernandez has lost 10 consecutive matches to Seles since winning their first encounter in 1989, but the 20-year-old from Miami who grew up on the baseline will come out charging this time.
Fernandez surprised and upset Gabriela Sabatini 6-1, 6-4 with an aggressive game Thursday. Sabatini beat Fernandez 6-2, 6-3 in Sydney two weeks ago.
''I definitely have to play the same way against Monica,'' Fernandez said. ''I'm not going to win if I stay back and wait for her to make errors. I have to play aggressively.''
Fernandez, built to attack at 5 feet 10 and 140 pounds, credits new coach Harold Solomon with transforming her into an offensive player.
''He's been drilling it into my head every day,'' said Fernandez, who began working with the former Top Ten star from Fort Lauderdale last month. ''He's told me that the only way for me to get to the top was to play aggressively. He constantly reminds me.
''I have been playing that way in practice, but it was hard to change in a match. Once you see you win a certain way, you don't want to try another way. I got to the point where I didn't think about the outcome, but the parts of my game I have to work on. Sabatini went through the same thing. And just one day it happened against me (at the 1990 U.S. Open) where she took chances and it paid off. Then she started doing it a lot. I needed one of those matches where I see that it works to give me confidence to do it in the future.''
Fernandez's tournament really began with Sabatini. Fernandez was seeded to play Graf in the quarterfinals, but Graf pulled out with a viral infection.
Seles was sharp in the semifinals, routing Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 6-2, 6-2 -- her eighth victory without a loss against the Spaniard.
''I definitely hit much better than any match I've played up until now,'' said Seles, who began the tournament with a sore neck.
Seles defeated three surprise Grand Slam finalists in 1991 -- Novotna (Australian), Sanchez (French), and Martina Navratilova (U.S. Open).
Fernandez makes four, although she has developed a special fondness for Melbourne. ''I love playing down here,'' Fernandez said. ''One day, I'd like to live here. The people are just great.''