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TENNIS AUSTRALIAN OPEN : Seles Saves Win Over Fernandez

January 25, 1991|From Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia — Monica Seles saved one match point and survived Mary Joe Fernandez's all-court attack to reach the final of the Australian Open.

Fernandez, a 19-year-old Floridian who lost in the final to Steffi Graf last year, came within a stroke of beating the second-seeded Seles Thursday before succumbing, 6-3, 0-6, 9-7, 2 hours 38 minutes.

Seles was down, 30-40, while serving in the 12th game of the final set, gained deuce when Fernandez netted a backhand. After a long forehand by Fernandez, Seles held with a service winner.

Both players held to 7-7 before Fernandez missed on a shot that brought her so much success earlier in the match--a drop shot that several times caught Seles flatfooted at the baseline. This time, Fernandez's backhand drop fell weakly against the net, the first of four consecutive points she lost as Seles broke at love.

Seles served out the match, capping her victory with a service winner to Fernandez's backhand.

Jana Novotna of Czechoslovakia beat Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain, 6-2, 6-4, to join Seles in Saturday's final.

Novotna, seeded 10th, played brilliantly and aggressively at the net in upsetting three-time defending champion Steffi Graf in the quarterfinals and No. 8 Zina Garrison in the fourth round. But against the No. 6 Sanchez Vicario, Novotna stayed back at the baseline and merely outlasted the error-prone Spaniard in a sloppy groundstroke match.

"After you beat the No. 1 player like Graf, you start thinking of bigger things," Novotna said. "We were both tentative in the beginning. That was the key. I could get rid of it before she did."

Patrick McEnroe, all his life just John's baby brother, became his own man with a gutsy, classy show and a glorious run of luck--seven net cords in the last two sets--in the most dramatic match of this Grand Slam event.

Tears trickled down his cheeks and the crowd rose in a loud, sustained ovation when McEnroe, his torso wrapped in a brace, ended a 3 1/2 hour thriller by beating Cristiano Caratti of Italy, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, Wednesday night.

Barely an hour into the McEnroe-Caratti match, the New Yorker felt a shot of pain on the left side of his back while serving in the fourth game of the second set. He won that game to go up, 3-1, then called a three-minute injury timeout during the changeover after Caratti held.

A trainer massaged McEnroe and snapped a corset around his back. And in that condition, the pain stabbing occasionally, dull and annoying the rest of the time, McEnroe played on, rubbing and clutching his side but never quitting.

Ranked a lowly No. 114, McEnroe isn't at the same level with No. 1 Stefan Edberg, No. 2 Boris Becker or No. 3 Ivan Lendl, but he's in the semifinals with them and no one is taking him lightly.

"It's unbelievable company to be in," McEnroe said.

"It sounds incredible," Becker said when learning he'd next play McEnroe. "I think immediately of the great McEnroe."

The older McEnroe, thrown out of a fourth-round match for misconduct last year, stayed away this year with a strained shoulder. Patrick came instead, and in his second Grand Slam tournament matched his brother's best in the Australian Open, a semifinal in 1983.

"He has shown he can play great tennis under pressure," Becker said.

Becker, though, may be far beyond McEnroe's reach at this point after playing nearly perfectly in beating 10th-seeded Guy Forget of France, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3.

Becker acknowledged that he was in top form against Forget, but added, "The only problem is I don't play like that every day."

Waiting for the winner of that match will be the survivor of Lendl-Edberg.

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