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Seles Wakens With a Vengeance

U.S. Open: After being trounced in first set, she routs Pierce; Agassi, Williams also win.

September 01, 1997|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — On a cloudy and subdued Sunday, Mary Pierce inadvertently drew something out of Monica Seles that had been submerged for at least two years: a laser-like intensity that zapped opponents who dared to step within its beam.

Pierce awakened what she termed Seles' formidable "will" and paid the price--she was ousted from the fourth round of the U.S. Open. Seles, seeded No. 2, defeated No. 9 Pierce, 1-6, 6-2, 6-2, by invoking the kind of attention to her work that had been difficult to maintain lately.

"I definitely woke up," Seles said, referring to her alertness after a dismal first set. She could also have been referring to her game in general, which has risen a notch in each round of the tournament she last won in 1992.

Pierce, too, found something of her power game that propelled her to the Australian Open title in 1995. Some followers trace the current big-hitting trend in women's tennis to Pierce's influence.

"I did exactly what I needed to do," Pierce said. "I felt Monica wasn't being too aggressive. Then everything went better for her in the second set. Give her a lot of credit. Since that point, she didn't let up. She had some great serves, great shots on the line. That's why she's No. 2 in the world."

Seles handled Pierce's power better in the latter stages of the match, especially as she began to be more assertive with her own shots and create her characteristic angles. It's an aspect of Seles' game that hasn't always surfaced when she would have liked. Sunday's match may change that.

Seles is not the only player here trying to conjure up former form. Andre Agassi's comeback--not his preferred description--is rolling along unimpeded. On Sunday, he defeated Mark Woodforde of Australia, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. His fourth-round opponent will be another Australian, 13th-seeded Patrick Rafter.

"Well, I'm in a whole different place now," Agassi said. "Now, it's not about comeback, it's about going out there and winning matches. It's something that even without the wins, I'd have to come back and do it again tomorrow and the next day, whether it's in front of 20,000 or on the practice court. It has to be a commitment that transcends the hype of whether I'm back or not."

On the subject of hype, Venus Williams continued to impress, if not charm, defeating Joannette Kruger of South Africa, 6-2, 6-3. This is the furthest Williams has advanced in her three Grand Slam events. She will play Sandrine Testud of France in the quarterfinals.

Kruger admitted to being psyched out about playing Williams.

"To be honest with you, we create it in our own heads, 'We're playing Venus!' " Kruger said. "I think you put it on yourself, 'Hey, what am I going to do here today to win? I've got to do something great.' That's not the attitude to have."

Williams refused to discuss the intimidation factor in her game, saying, "I'm not sharing those [thoughts] today."

Still, Williams' presence on the court is undeniably impressive. Six-foot-two Lindsay Davenport says she wishes she could learn to use her height to her advantage the way Williams does.

"She plays tall, I play short," Davenport said.

Said Kruger: "She has enormous confidence in herself. I think it's great when somebody that age can have that confidence in herself. It's wonderful. I never had it. Here she is, she is 17, and thinking she's this wonderful, great player. I don't know where you get it, but she has it, so that's good for her.

"She actually smiled at me when we walked around during a changeover. I thought, 'I've got to do something now or it will be too late.' I think that triggered me a little bit. I was a little bit more feisty. It [the smile] came over as being, 'Do you have anything more than that to show me?' "

Williams said it was not a smile but "an amused look."

"Why don't you guys tell me what they [opposing players] want me to do?" she said. "They should come up to me and say, 'Venus, I want you to smile so I can feel better.' It's not about that. When I want to smile, I'll smile. If I don't want to, I'm not going to. I think it's a little bit peevish. Smiling--what does that have to do with anything?"

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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