MELBOURNE, Australia — Monica Seles, winning the last six games, became the youngest women's singles champion in the Australian Open history with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Jana Novotna Saturday.
Seles, at 17 years 2 months, is four months younger than Margaret Court when Court won the Australian Open in 1960. Seles also stood poised to take over the No. 1 ranking Steffi Graf earned at 18 in 1987 and has held for 180 consecutive weeks.
"I'm excited, no question, but I know there are things I have to work on," said Seles, who beat Graf to win the French Open last year. "I can get a lot better. I have to."
A pulled hamstring muscle at the end of the first set weakened Novotna, who played perfectly at the start but faded to lose nine of the last 10 games in the match.
Seles started sluggishly and erratically against Novotna, who didn't make an error while breaking Seles in the first game and holding service. Seles made seven errors in those two games.
Seles seemed to forget to grunt at the start as she lazily poked balls long and wide and into the net. Once she started grunting with her usual two-toned squeal, she began hitting winners again.
Novotna broke Seles with a deep backhand approach shot in the 11th game of the opening set, but as the match wore on, Seles' sharply angled groundstrokes landed closer to the lines, forcing Novotna to stretch and lunge more in each game.
"At the end of the first set, I was still feeling pretty good because I was able to hang on until that final break," Seles said. "In the second set, I just got mad. You can't play this way against her. She was just trying to slow the pace. In the third set, I was more confident, and she was making too many mistakes. After I broke at 30 and held my serve (in the fourth game) I thought I was on top."
Novotna, a 22-year-old Czech who made impressive strides in this Grand Slam event by beating Zina Garrison, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Graf on the way to the final, couldn't keep up with the torrent of groundstrokes Seles aimed at her.
This match, Novotna said, was totally different from the one against Graf.
"Steffi has a weakness (the backhand passing shot) and I took advantage of it," Novotna said. "Monica has other weaknesses but it is very difficult to use them. She doesn't move forward as well, but how are you going to use a drop shot against her when she keeps you at the baseline?"
Regardless of the rankings, Novotna said Graf should be regarded as the best in women's tennis.
"I would still go with Steffi," she said. "It's difficult to say, but on all courts, all kinds of surfaces, I think Steffi is better."
Seles, too, thought it might be premature to call her No. 1.
"I still think my (No. 2) ranking is a very fair ranking," she said.