2001 Golf U.S. Open
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Seles comes up short again

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Posted: Sunday September 02, 2001 9:00 PM
 

By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated

NEW YORK -- Call it Daja vu all over again. For the 18th straight time, Monica Seles has failed to win a Grand Slam. In ideal conditions for tennis, she lost Sunday afternoon to 18-year-old Daja Bedanova 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, marking the first time in 11 years that Seles entered the U.S. Open and failed to advance to the quarterfinals.

Deservedly, Seles received a rousing ovation as she left the court. As always, she smiled in sheepish acknowledgment, signed some autographs and took pains to laud her conqueror's effort. But make no mistake, this loss hurt. Perhaps as profoundly as any other. "When you have matches like today," she said, her voice trailing off, "when you come out in a fourth round pretty flat, it's really difficult."

Seles' tale, of course, is the stuff of Greek tragedy, repeated so often it has already become embedded in tennis lore. Since her return in 1995 and since winning her ninth Grand Slam title in Melbourne in 1996, her script at the majors has never contained a happy ending. Sometimes she loses early, as she did Sunday or as she did to Mirjana Lucic at Wimbledon two years ago. Sometimes she lasts until the final, as she did in Paris in 1998. Sometimes she falls decisively. Sometimes it takes three sets. Regardless, as less and less sand remains in the top of the hourglass, she has yet to return to rarefied air.

For all her disappointments, Seles had reason for optimism this time. After missing five months of the season with a stress fracture in her right foot, she returned this summer, seemingly from the ether, to play her best tennis in years. Competing for the Hartford World TeamTennis franchise, Seles was blitzing the ball and was eager to test her game on tour. In four summer hard-court events, she halved her ranking to No. 7, beating Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis twice. Seles won no titles, but suddenly she was a contender -- if an outside one -- at the Open, an event she last won in 1992. "If I keep working," she said, "I can still compete with any of the top players."

Improved fitness was at the root on her mini-comeback. Though her foot injury made conventional training difficult, she hired Lisa Reed and Pat Etcheberry to put her through a battery of exercises, including biking and swimming. She also retained Mike Sell, a former ATP player and Hartford teammate, to serve as her coach and hitting partner. Over the summer she played four straight weeks and through six three-set matches, yet hardly looked the worse for it.

All of which made Sunday's debacle excruciatingly disappointing. The match spanned three sets and nearly two hours, but Seles' body held up. Rather, it was her strokes that deserted her. Never able to find a groove, she reluctantly starred in a comedy of unforced errors, belting 51 shots beyond the court's parameters. What's more, she played poorly at critical moments, failing to close out the first set when leading 5-4 and making good on just one of eight break points.

Bedanova is no slouch, a player on the make who took out Elena Dementieva in Australia. But she is not the type of player Seles envisioned tripping her up after such an inspiring summer. "Both on my serve and on my groundstrokes and returns, just kind of everything wasn't going the way that I wanted it to go," she said.

The ugly, inevitable question: Where (and when) does Seles, who turns 28 in three months, go from here? Only the misanthropic among us don't hope that she can compartmentalize Sunday afternoon's pratfalls and that her overall play this summer can sustain her motivation. But the realists wonder how many more deflating losses she can endure. "It was just one of those days," she said. Then she let out a sigh of resignation and added: "I just wish it didn't come today."

Half volleys

Anyone else get the feeling that Tommy Robredo and Andy Roddick will meet again a few times in the future after their quarterfinal throwdown later this week? ... Since losing her first set of the tournament to 95th-ranked Anca Barna, Serena Williams has regained her form. She dropped just five games to Justine Henin Sunday afternoon, winning 7-5, 6-0. ... Bedanova is the only unseeded woman left in the draw.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will file daily reports from Flushing Meadows. Click here to send a question to his Tennis Mailbag.

 
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