Monica Seles consoled a tearful junior girl in the locker room, advising her not to take losses too seriously, then scolded herself for a tiny lapse in her longest and toughest match of the U.S. Open.
Still undefeated in her comeback, Seles surged into the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-4 victory Monday over No. 11 Anke Huber that took 71 minutes - the first time anyone pushed Seles past 1 hour in the tournament.
Outgrunted but not outplayed, Seles took command early, racing through the first set in 23 minutes and sweeping 10 straight points in one stretch. She broke Huber to start the second set and thought, like the fans in the packed stadium, that she would close the match quickly. But Huber, who lost to Seles in the Canadian Open, had other plans.
Grunting, groaning, shrieking and imploring the heavens for help, Huber broke back to 1-1 and stayed with Seles until 3-3. Huber covered her eyes with her hand when she blew an easy forehand on Seles’ serve in the sixth game, and she might as well have kept her eyes shut the rest of the match. Seles’ one mediocre stretch was over.
“I was a little mad at myself,” Seles said. “I had control of the match, but then I let the control out of my hand. It could have been closer than it was.
“I just did a very weird service game. My mind wandered off. I felt I let the momentum slip away from me a little bit. That made the second set much harder than if I had won that second game.”
As it was, Seles bore down on Huber’s serve and took her to love-40. Huber saved those three break-points, the last on a brilliant rally by both players, but Seles got two more break-points and finally cashed in when Huber poked a weak forehand into the net.
Seles, who wore a black brace on her left knee again because of tendinitis, ended the match easily, yielding only three points in her next two service games, smacking her fifth ace, and moving on to the prospect of playing Wednesday against No. 5 Jana Novotna, a 6-4, 6-3 victor over Katarina Studenikova.
“Against Jana, I have had some very tough matches,” Seles said. “She is going to come in and serve and volley a lot. Her serve is very strong.”
Seles’ strength is her refusal to give up in any match, but she has learned over the years and through her encounter with the man who stabbed her more than two years ago that losing on the tennis court is nothing to cry about.
“When I go into the locker room, even the professional women or the juniors when they lose, they come in and they are crying,” she said. “Like today, right before I went on, I saw a girl that was crying. You shouldn’t really cry over losing a tennis match. Tennis is a sport. You start playing tennis because it is fun, not to be crying.”
Seles went over to the girl, Edit Pakay, who had a similar Hungarian ethnic background, and tried to calm her.
“I told her, life is not over because you lost one match,” Seles said. “I told her I lost matches and I cried, but you forget it. You learn from your loss and go home now and try to work harder and do better. It shouldn’t affect your life or your outlook on life or your happiness.
“If you lose a mom or a dad or a dear friend, it is different,” Seles said. “It is really hard for me to see a 15-year-old or one of the top players crying after she lost a match.”
No. 4 Conchita Martinez and No. 16 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy also reached the quarters. Martinez defeated Zina Garrison Jackson 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, and Schultz-McCarthy beat No. 7 Kimiko Date 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.
The men’s matches went according to seed.
Defending champion and No. 1 Andre Agassi beat Jared Palmer 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 to reach the quarters against Petr Korda, who downed Vince Spadea 6-2, 7-5 6-4. No. 4 Boris Becker beat Marc Rosset 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3.
Agassi was in control the whole match against Palmer, a serve-and-volleyer who provided a convenient target for Agassi’s passing shots. Agassi’s only problem was an unusually high number of aces - six - but he was broken only once.
Agassi is in a different frame of mind than he was a year ago when he came in unseeded and had to beat five seeded players to take the title.
“Last year, I came in without a lot of matches. This year, I’ve played a lot. It’s two different situations,” Agassi said. “I’m definitely playing better, ready to peak when I have to. You do what you’ve got to do to win.”
xxxx MONDAY’S GLANCE New York Highlights Monday in the $9.86 million U.S. Open: Results: Men’s singles, fourth round: No. 1 Andre Agassi, No. 4 Boris Becker and Petr Korda advanced. Women’s singles, fourth round: No. 2 Monica Seles, No. 4 Conchita Martinez, No. 5 Jana Novotna and No. 16 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy advanced. Upsets: Brenda Schultz-McCarthy beat No. 7 Kimiko Date 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.
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