TORONTO — Nothing so far has managed to give Monica Seles pause on her inexorable path to the final of the du Maurier Ltd. Canadian Open this week. Why should a little sentiment trip her up now?
Facing a loyal friend and steadfast supporter in the semifinals Saturday, Seles didn't so much as tap the brakes before running over Gabriela Sabatini in 49 minutes, 6-1, 6-0. Seles managed to reduce the No. 8 player in the world to an unusual position of defenselessness.
Seles' opponent in today's final will be Amanda Coetzer, who defeated fourth-seeded Jana Novotna, 6-4, 6-3.
After the Seles-Sabatini match, both players spoke of the emotion the day held, but only Sabatini gave her emotions a visible response. Seles praised the Argentine for defending her during contentious meetings with WTA tour players when the formula for Seles' comeback was being discussed.
But Seles' new co-No. 1 ranking with Steffi Graf accurately reflects both her level of play and her focus on court.
Nothing appears to be fazing Seles. She seems not to notice the oppressive heat and humidity. Anke Huber, Seles' quarterfinal opponent, pounded the ball with authority, yet Seles smacked it back with greater speed. And then Sabatini afforded Seles her first extended look at topspin and slice, but Seles handled those shots with little trouble.
Sabatini did what she could. She didn't play badly, but Seles is playing on such a level that she makes opponents look bad. It's unusual for a player to hit low-percentage angled shots again and again and not miss. It's a risky tactic, but Seles has eliminated the danger. In Saturday's match, she hit 23 winners with only eight unforced errors.
Seles' torrid ground strokes have not let up; in fact, the 21-year-old appears to gain strength as her matches progress. Sabatini was forced to stand 10 feet behind the baseline in order to effectively prepare for Seles' penetrating shots. Getting to the net was out of the question.
"She was playing very well," Sabatini said. "She was hitting a lot of winners. She was pretty close to the lines and very deep. She was not giving me any opportunities. I was surprised at the way she was hitting the ball."
By reaching the final, Seles finds herself in familiar territory. Before she was stabbed, Seles reached the final in 14 of her last 15 tournaments and in 35 of her last 37. And now she has returned to the tour without breaking stride.
Asked if she was surprised at her level of play, Seles admitted that she was.
"Definitely," she said. "Compared to the training I used to do, this is nothing. That's what surprises me this week, being able to win the big points. I thought I would choke or get uptight on the tougher points. That's the question, if I am going to be able to keep this up."
Seles continues to serve well, putting in 81% of her first serves. That foiled Sabatini's plans to get to the net in the second set. With no second serve to pounce on, Sabatini was left at the baseline again.
After the match the players hugged and pecked cheeks at the net, and Sabatini managed to conjure up a pat on the back for the person who had just overwhelmed her.
"To see Monica again feels weird, but it's great to see her back," Sabatini said. "Especially for her, this is what she loves to do. I'm happy for her. It's hard after two years without playing any tournament. It's hard to start again. I know she has a great mentality. She is playing like nothing has happened."