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Seles wins, but her life off court dims joy Ill father preoccupies player at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — WIMBLEDON, England -- This is Monica Seles, trying to win Wimbledon, trying to deal with life.

Yesterday, a fine mist that settled over Wimbledon for hours finally lifted around dinnertime, and Seles walked out on Centre Court, some two days after she was first scheduled to play.

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She met a fiery Australian named Rachel McQuillan and boomed her shots around Centre Court, showing the fans a little bit of the old style that made her the most feared player in the game.

In the end, Seles won, 6-0, 6-2. But there was little joy in her play, her mood seeming to match the dark clouds that hung overhead.

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Seles continues to be one of the sadder and more compelling stories in tennis.

On a day when rain wiped out nearly every match -- playing havoc with a Wimbledon schedule that could force organizers to consider playing on the middle Sunday -- the focus once again shifted uneasily to Seles.

Her story is familiar, the one-time No. 1 who after being stabbed by a German fan in April 1993 spent two years in semi-seclusion before emerging a changed and fragile player.

She still had her great shots, but she lacked the desire. Then, her body started breaking down. First, her shoulder. Then, a broken finger.

There were some great moments on the court, her two finals appearances at the U.S. Open, her victory at the 1996 Australian.

But there were also setbacks. She no longer closed every match with the familiar grunt, winner and a smile.

Her home life also overshadowed the game.

Her father, Karolji, a one-time cartoonist and television director turned coach, became ill with stomach cancer. He is no longer able to travel to his daughter's matches, though they remain in touch daily by telephone.

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But clearly, it's not enough for Seles.

"Obviously, it's a pretty tough time I'm going through right now, so I can't say I'm in the happiest period in my life in the last five years," she said. "But I guess you go through stages, and it's a tough stage for me right now. And I've just got to stick through it."

Asked if playing helps her keep her mind off her problems, Seles said: "No, because they are totally different.

"It's a game, a sport that I'm playing. And what's going outside of my life is much bigger than that. So, they are two totally different things."

But there are moments when Seles appears at ease on court, when she slams winners and dumps in fast serves.

"I had an awful feeling she could hit anything from anywhere," McQuillan said. "On television, you can see it happen. But when you're playing her, she's different."

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McQuillan could see the shots coming. But she just couldn't get them back fast enough.

"She looked like she could hit the ball cross-court all day long," McQuillan said.

But McQuillan said she isn't sure Seles can win Wimbledon. She said Seles could struggle against Jana Novotna, a 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 winner over Wiltrud Probst.

"A Novotna could do some damage to Seles," McQuillan said. "She has that game that can hurt Seles."

Seles can no longer drive tennis balls into the corners for hours. She has difficulty covering the court, saying weight is a problem.

And her confidence is down. In past years, she might have talked about getting to a final, even winning a championship. Now, she talks about getting out of the second round.

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Asked about her chances of winning Wimbledon, the only major title to elude her, she said: "At this point, it's really the farthest thing from my mind."

Seles failed to convert one match point before a light rain forced play to be postponed yet again yesterday. But when she got another match point, she sent a backhand winner to the corner.

Finally, she was released. She walked off the court, hugging her racket bag, looking at the dark skies and the crowd.

She smiled.

Featured matches

Play starts on Centre Court and Court 1 at 7 a.m.; play on all other courts begins at 6 a.m.

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Centre Court: Martina Hingis (1) vs. Olga Barabanschikova; Natasha Zvereva vs. Elena Likhovtseva; Tim Henman (14) vs. Jerome Golmard; Pete Sampras (1) vs. Hendrik Dreekmann; Amy Frazier vs. Brenda Schultz-McCarthy (14).

Court 1: Greg Rusedski vs. Jonathan Stark; Anna Kournikova vs. Barbara Rittner; Thomas Johansson vs. Boris Becker (8); Marc Rosset vs. Petr Korda (16).

Court 2: Dominique van Roost vs. Mary Pierce (9); Magnus Norman vs. Goran Ivanisevic (2); Joannette Kruger vs. Anke Huber (7).

Court 3: Andrei Pavel vs. Richard Krajicek (4); Conchita Martinez (10) vs. Yuka Yoshida.

Court 4: Wayne Ferreira (15) vs. Rodolphe Gilbert.

Court 5: Richey Reneberg vs. Carlos Moya (10); Denisa Chladkova vs. Lindsay Davenport (5).

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Court 7: Elena Makarova vs. Irina Spirlea (12).

Court 13: Iva Majoli (4) vs. Marion Maruska; Patrick Rafter (12) vs. Jens Knippschild.

Court 18: Kristie Boogert vs. Barbara Paulus (16); Mary Joe Fernandez (11) vs. Noelle vanLottum.

Pub Date: 6/26/97


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