Monica Seles Wins Italian Open

Monday, May 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROME (AP) — A decade after winning the tournament as an up-and-coming 16-year-old, Monica Seles added a second Italian Open title to her long list of championships Sunday and hoped for more success next week in Paris.

In a solid tune-up for the French Open, Seles beat Amelie Mauresmo 6-2, 7-6 (4), 10 years after her first triumph on the clay courts of the Foro Italico.

That victory over Martina Navratilova in 1990 set the stage for Seles to take her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, a pattern Seles now looks to repeat when this year's championship opens May 29.

``I'd love to play well at the French Open,'' she said. ``Obviously, this gives me a lot of matches, a lot of confidence.''

Seles won seven more Grand Slam tournaments in 30 months after her initial French Open win, before a knife attack by a deranged fan sent her to the sidelines for two years. While Seles has won since her return, including the 1996 Australian Open, she has never regained the dominating form that made her No. 1.

But since returning in February from a stress fracture of her right foot, Seles has cranked up her power game, winning 22 of 26 matches, and moved up to No. 3 in the WTA rankings with her performance this week.

And this week in Rome, where injuries and upsets decimated the field, the old grit and line-drive groundstrokes were on display again.

From the outset Sunday, Seles showed the determination of her dominant teenaged years, breaking serve at love in the first game of the match on her way to the 77-minute victory.

``She went right into the match from the beginning,'' said Mauresmo. ``She doesn't let you breathe.''

Mauresmo kept pace with Seles' two-handed shots but committed too many errors on key points as both players battled a swirling wind.

Seles, seeded fifth, twice served for the match, at 5-4 and 6-5. But Mauresmo broke back both times, before hitting an overhead long on match point.

``It was nerve-wracking,'' Seles said afterwards.

Seles shooed off questions all week about title hopes at the French, repeating her ``one match at a time'' approach and pointing out weaknesses she says she must still overcome.

``It's a totally different tournament'' than the Italian Open, she said of Roland Garros. ``I still believe I have a long way to go with a few things in my game and my physical training if I want to be consistent and play even better.''

Mauresmo, Australian Open runnerup in 1999, won the Sydney tournament earlier this year, which included wins over Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport. She had lost just one set in Rome before facing Seles, and moves up three places to 15th in the rankings with her performance.