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Seles, on Ropes, Escapes When Kijimuta Falters

June 01, 1992|ELLIOTT ALMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — Akiko Kijimuta's shots were falling like the rain above, and Monica Seles was about to fall with them.

Kijimuta, a two-handed Japanese slugger who is ranked No. 150, broke the world's top-ranked woman three times during the third set of their fourth-round Sunday, putting her in position to topple the defending French Open champion at Roland Garros Stadium.

Leading by 4-1 and serving, Kijimuta, from Kanagawa, had everything going her way. Then she began to think about what was happening.

"I got nervous," she said.

Kijimuta lost her rhythm and let Seles escape with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory that will be remembered not for the way Seles rallied, but for the way Kijimuta wilted.

It was by far Seles' toughest match in this Grand Slam event. Before Sunday, Seles had not lost more than two games in any set in three victories.

As Seles charged back with an all-or-nothing attack, rain began falling on Court 1. It did not seem to bother Seles, who said she wanted to finish the match, win or lose.

Kijimuta, however, wanted to stop. She said she appealed to the umpire twice, but was told to keep playing.

So she played, missing more and more shots, feeling the moment slip away. By the time Seles took a 5-4 lead, Kijimuta was all but through. She fell behind 0-30 on her serve before settling into rallies that forced Seles' errors to tie, 30-30.

Then she made the kind of mistake that could haunt her for some time--she double-faulted to make it match point. Seles then sent a cross-court shot beyond Kijimuta's reach.

"It was a little bit of pressure on me," Kijimuta said.

Said Seles: "It was pretty wild. I could just not find the type of game I wanted to play against her."

Having played Kijimuta before, Seles thought she would not fold.

After five games of the third set, no one watching would have disagreed. But during the sixth game, Seles broke Kijimuta for the second time, and it was apparent she would not give in.

Still, Kijimuta kept up the two-handed forehand punch. After Kijimuta saved a break point with an unreachable shot on the deep corner line, Seles raised her hands and shrugged.

"She just hit some shots I really didn't expect her to hit," Seles said.

Seles moves into the quarterfinals, where she will meet the winner of today's rain-delayed Jennifer Capriati-Mary Pierce match.

In other women's matches Sunday, No. 2 Steffi Graf of Germany defeated No. 11 Jana Novotna of Czechoslovakia, 6-1, 6-4; No. 3 Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina defeated Patricia Hy of Canada, 6-3, 6-1, and No. 4 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain eliminated Kimo Date of Japan, 6-1, 6-2, and No. 28 Natalia Zvereva of Belarus beat Sabine Hack of Germany, 6-3, 6-3.

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