Seles takes early command, ousts Fernandez


MIAMI -- Mary Joe Fernandez knew she had to grab the initiative and not let Monica Seles take the first crack at the ball. She knew if she hit anything short, she would be "a goner."

She was gone last night in one hour and 10 minutes. It was Seles who took early command and spoiled Fernandez's bid to reach her first Lipton final, 6-1, 6-3, at the International Tennis Center before 8,832.

"She puts you on the defensive right away," Fernandez said. "I had my chances and didn't convert."

Yesterday afternoon, Steffi Graf had chances to end her three-match losing streak against Gabriela Sabatini. But her game unraveled in the third set of a strange match and Sabatini won, 0-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1, before 10,662.

That sets up a final tomorrow afternoon between the new No. 1, Seles, and the woman who may be playing the best in recent weeks, fourth-ranked Sabatini.

The men's semifinals today feature Stefan Edberg and three young Americans -- his opponent this afternoon, David Wheaton, and tonight's opponents, Jim Courier and Richey Reneberg. It's the first time three U.S. players have reached the semifinals in Lipton's seven years.

Edberg saved four set points in the second set to defeat Emilio Sanchez, 6-2, 7-6 (8-6). Wheaton, 0-4 this year before the tournament and ouster of Andre Agassi, defeated Cristiano Caratti of Italy, 6-7 (7-9), 6-2, 6-0.

"We're going to see more of those guys," Edberg said of the Americans. "There's sort of a new generation coming."

Though the serve-and-volley is Edberg's forte, the Americans have been the big servers at Lipton. In four matches, Wheaton, whose No. 46 ranking is the second-lowest of any Lipton semifinalist ever, has 25 aces; Courier 23, Reneberg seven and Edberg three.

Speculation that Seles would be exhausted from her three-set marathon victory Wednesday over Jennifer Capriati was unfounded. She ran down everything Fernandez hit -- drops, lobs, shots to the corners.

"I ran a lot of balls down," Seles said. "After playing Jennifer, I was tired for an hour and couldn't breathe for a while. But today I practiced more than usual and felt better."

When they last played in the Australian Open semifinals in January, Fernandez had match point before losing, 6-3, 0-6, 9-7.

This time, Seles "just played better," Fernandez said. "She made fewer errors and made more winners. I tried my best."

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