Seles Conquers Pierce In Return to Old Form

NEW YORK -- The unflinching refusal to lose that once marked Monica Seles' style, then disappeared during her years of suffering, has emerged to carry her closer to a U.S. Open semifinal showdown against fast-rising star Venus Williams.


Seles rallied from a thrashing in the first set by Mary Pierce, who played at her brilliant best, and put on the kind of performance that few others can match as she ran Pierce dizzy in a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory Sunday.


Despite sunshine and superb matches, the day had a somber edge as players and fans reacted to the tragedy that led to Princess Diana's death. She was a tennis fan who was, as 1977 Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade said, "the life and light of the Royal Box'' when she visited, and several players had come to know her.


An announcer asked fans to observe a moment of silence for Diana in Arthur Ashe Stadium before Andre Agassi's match against Australian Mark Woodforde.


Agassi wore a black AIDS symbol, recalling one of the causes Diana championed, as he beat Woodforde, the straight sets conqueror of Yevgeny Kafelnikov, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the fourth round.


Agassi next plays another Australian and his first seeded opponent, No. 13 Patrick Rafter. Rafter beat Lionel Roux 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.


In other men's third-round matches, No. 2 Michael Chang beat Sargis Sargsian 6-1, 6-3, 7-5; Wimbledon finalist and former U.S. Open finalist Cedric Pioline beat Leander Paes in five sets; No. 7 Sergi Bruguera downed Hernan Gumy in a five-setter; and No. 10 Marcelo Rios also won in five sets against Tommy Haas.


Seles, who last saw Diana when they practiced at the same club during Wimbledon, spoke of her shock upon hearing of her death, and remembered how her own car was accidentally hit in Paris by two motorbikes with paparazzi when she won the French Open in 1990.


Grunting and slugging deep like the Seles of old, she kept Pierce away from the net in the second set to turn around the match, then bore down as she always did in the past to close it out.


Pierce couldn't have played much better at the net, where she won 17 of her 19 approaches, but Seles beat her there at match point with a lunging forehand pass.


Seeded No. 2 behind Martina Hingis, Seles will play in the quarters against No. 11 Irina Spirlea, a 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 winner over No. 5 Amanda Coetzer.


Williams, coming off a victory over No. 8 Anke Huber, beat 45th-ranked Joannette Kruger 6-2, 6-3 in another strong performance that showed off her power, poise and newfound accuracy.