Playing two weeks after the death of her father, Monica Seles jolted the French Open today by beating Martina Hingis 6-3, 6-2 to reach the final.
Seles, in a throwback to her championship days, scored a convincing victory over the world's No. 1 player and will meet Aranxta Sanchez Vicario for the title.During the match, Seles drew inspiration from her family in the stands at Roland Garros Stadium. As she has all tournament, Seles wore her father's ring on a chain around her neck. Karolj Seles died of cancer May 14.
"It was really nice to share a win like this with them," Seles said.
Seles served well, made few errors and most of all, painted the lines with sizzling groundstrokes in her startling victory.
Seles had never beaten Hingis in their previous five matches and now advances to her first Grand Slam final since the 1996 U.S. Open. Seles won in Paris three straight years (1990-92), becoming the first woman to achieve the feat since 1937. Last year she lost to Hingis in the semis.
Seles, the No. 6 seed, hit a cross-court backhand winner past Hingis to close the match, then clenched her fist. She tapped her racket and smiled as she walked off the court.
"It's quite amazing," she said.
Hingis, who all week played brilliantly, seemed unable to cope with Seles' power. Normally composed on court, the Swiss star was reduced to scolding herself and bouncing her racket on the clay in frustration.
Hingis was hoping to move on and play for the only Grand Slam title to elude her. Instead, Seles gets Sanchez-Vicario, a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) winner over Lindsay Davenport in an earlier semifinal.
"Everybody knows I can play better tennis than I played today," Hingis said. "Sometimes it's hard to keep concentrating match to match.
"Usually she makes one mistake. Today she didn't. I just probably put too much pressure on myself. I really want to win this tournament."
In the first set, Seles broke Hingis for a 3-2 lead, hitting two backhand winners in a row.
The players stayed on serve until 5-3, when Hingis twice double-faulted to give Seles a 0-40 lead. A point later, Hingis netted a weak backhand into the net to end the set.
Hingis broke Seles in the opening game of the second set, after five deuces. But Seles broke right back for 1-1, then broke Hingis again in the fourth game for 3-1, and held for 4-1.
In the next game, Seles actually overruled the net judge, giving Hingis her only ace of the match. They stayed on serve until the final game, when Seles broke Hingis for the fifth time in the match.
In the other semifinal, Sanchez Vicario was at her gritty and relentless best. Davenport, the No. 2 seed, hit her groundstrokes with power, but had trouble keeping them inside the lines. She made 56 unforced errors, with 34 in the second set. Sanchez Vicario had 29 the entire match.
"I know she was very tired, and I just had to just hang in there," said Sanchez-Vicario, the No. 4 seed from Spain.
Leading 6-5 in the tiebreaker, Sanchez Vicario made a great effort to send back a high defensive lob. Davenport responded with an overhead, but it sailed wide.
"I always think you have a chance if you get the ball back," Sanchez Vicario said.
Davenport conceded she hadn't played well.
"I guess I beat myself, but she kind of forced it on me," she said.
In a match where service breaks were the rule, Davenport didn't hold serve once in the first set, and held serve only twice in the second. Sanchez Vicario held only twice in each set.
The Spaniard has had a long career at the top of women's tennis and has won three Grand Slam titles: the 1989 and 1994 French Opens and the 1994 U.S. Open.
Davenport, meanwhile, has never reached the final of a Grand Slam tournament despite being ranked second in the world.
For a semifinalist, she has been indeed modest. Asked earlier in the week if she felt overlooked, she replied, "If I were a betting person or a journalist, I'd overlook myself also."
She described herself as "just an ordinary girl playing tennis. A boring story."