· Team WTAworld, Administrator, aka Nibbler
By Richard Pagliaro - The tiebreaker was a heart breaker for Alexandra Stevenson. Facing one of tennis's top returners in Monica Seles, Stevenson slammed 17 aces, but committed nine double faults and squandered 11 set points as the second-seeded Seles prevailed 7-6 (11-9), 7-6 (11 9) in a power-packed quarterfinal of the Pan Pacific tournament in Tokyo.
The match had everything except a break of serve as the pair produced 15 break points between them, but did not convert on any break-point chances. The 28-year-old Seles stubbornly stood her ground and refused to budge from the baseline in beating hard-serving Venus Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Seles faced an even tougher task today as Stevenson sent stinging aces past a lunging Seles, who often leaped in vain for serves that eluded her like a harried commuter trying to catch the train before the subway doors slam shut.
"It was tough to get a rhythm because she was serving unbelievably," Seles said. "I was just trying to hang in there and got a little bit lucky."
Saving three set points in the first set, Seles sealed the set 11-9 in the tiebreak. The 20-year-old Stevenson, who reached the tournament quarterfinals as a qualifier, came back strong in the second set. She earned two set points on Seles' serve at 5-4 and another at 6-5, but Seles fought off all three to force a tiebreak.
Both players picked up the pace in the second-set tiebreaker, trading powerful blasts from the baseline. When Stevenson delivered a deft drop volley off a screaming Seles forehand to take a 5-3 lead she seemed on the verge of forcing a final set. But showing the form that makes her one of the sport's fiercest fighters, Seles's grunts grew louder and she fought off five more set points with deep shots than landed near the baseline. A Stevenson forehand error ended the two-hour struggle.
Seles will face Anna Kournikova, who was a 6-4, 6-2 winner over Anne Kremer, in the semifinals.
With a wins over top-ranked Jennifer Capriati and 19th-ranked Amanda Coetzer in the last three weeks, the 49th-ranked Stevenson is serving notice she can be a force on the WTA Tour, but that didn't diminish the sting of a match she seemed to let slip away today.
"I screwed up," Stevenson said. "I am unhappy with the result because I have been working hard to be seeded in time for the French Open."