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FRENCH OPEN WOMEN

Morning Crowd Gives Hingis a Bye, for Now

May 30, 2000|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — The careful rehabilitation of Martina Hingis and her image started at the ideal time and against an ideal opponent.

Whether it was by design or coincidence, Hingis was the first match on Court Central at the French Open, just after 11 on Monday morning. There were plenty of empty seats at that hour, no time for rowdy spectators to get wound up, remembering her epic temper tantrum against Steffi Graf in last year's final.

And, most important, the top-seeded Hingis didn't have to play a local French star or revered legend. Instead, she faced 28-year-old Sabine Appelmans of Belgium.

Hostility? There was probably more of that out on the street running from the metro station Porte d'Auteuil to Roland Garros.

Hingis dropped only eight points in a 16-minute first set and defeated Appelmans, 6-0, 6-4. Hingis will face qualifier Julia Abe of Germany next.

"I've been here since Tuesday, but I never had so many people recognize me walking on the streets in regular clothes, never," Hingis said. "So it was real nice."

Hingis was asked if she still thinks about last year's final.

"Well, I mean people remind me about it all the time," she said. "When I look in the paper, or I see magazine articles, I laugh at the pictures because it was an unbelievable, emotional thing last year.

"But I think since then many things have changed. I'm playing well right now and that's what is most important to me."

The most impressive first-day showing among the top female players came from third-seeded Monica Seles, who defeated Silvija Talaja of Croatia, 6-2, 6-2, in 63 minutes. Talaja appeared helpless facing Seles' barrage of groundstrokes and lost the first five games.

Two seeded women lost. Meghann Shaughnessy defeated No. 12 Julie Halard-Decugis of France, 7-5, 6-4.

Clay-court specialist Fabiola Zuluaga of Colombia beat No. 15 Jennifer Capriati, 6-3, 7-5. Capriati, who reached the fourth round here last year, double-faulted 10 times and had 42 unforced errors. It is clear she had been struggling since splitting with her coach, Harold Solomon, this spring.

"He was great for me and a great coach," she said. "But I took myself back from that point to top 20. The coach is always going to be the coach. But the player is the one that does all the work.

"I don't want to make it seem like he brought me back, and now because he's not with me, I'm going to go down. That's not fair to say. I just don't think it has anything to do with that."

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