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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Seles: She's Back, Ready to Dominate

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey -- The scorecard from Monica Seles' return to tennis against Martina Navratilova:


Ground strokes: All the way back. Merciless. As if she hadn't missed a day, much less 27 months. "I couldn't believe some of those shots I hit," said Seles after her 6-3, 6-2 win Saturday.


Serve: First serve is harder than before. "It always helps to grow an inch and fill out like she has," Navratilova said.


Fitness: Needs work. She has a bit of a spare tire around the midsection. Things could have gotten ugly if there had been a third set. "I'm not where I need to be," Seles said.


Summary: She isn't going to save women's tennis. She's going to obliterate women's tennis.


All right, Saturday's match was just a cheesy exhibition against a 38-year-old retiree with a sore groin -- a poor test of Seles' Grand Slam readiness, and no test of her famous mental toughness, which, Seles has said, is the quality she is most uncertain about as she returns from the nightmare of being stabbed on a court in Germany.


Still, it was clear Saturday that she will require only some minor tuning to make her way back to the top of the women's game.


No, with the way Seles was hammering her ground strokes yesterday, there is no one besides Steffi Graf who can push her consistently. And Seles was pounding everyone before the stabbing, winning seven of the last eight Grand Slam tournaments she played. It made her somewhat less than popular with fans. She was just too good.


She won't have any problems with popularity anymore. The stabbing, combined with the German legal system's stunning exoneration of the nut who stabbed her, has turned her into the most sympathetic figure in sports, a living martyr.


As things stand now, the biggest challenge Seles faces is herself, specifically her mental toughness. It was the stuff of legend before the stabbing, but the incident and its aftermath shook her to her bones.


What is important is to see her laughing and happy in public again, as she was Saturday when she all but dived into the crowd after the match to sign autographs.


"I had a very hard time for a long time," she said. "But I feel fine now."


Navratilova also worked with Seles on her volley, the one component of Seles' game that was weak before the stabbing. That won't raise her popularity among players. Not that she was popular in the locker room before. Not a single player called to wish her good luck before Saturday's match, she said.


It might take her time to make it all the way back, maybe even into next year. But she'll get there. And she'll dominate again. And people will appreciate her greatness this time. And that's the only appropriate ending to her terrible, terrible tale.


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In men's action, Pete Sampras won the first set against Andre Agassi on Sunday in Montreal, at the Canadian Open final, but Agassi came back to win the title 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.


The tournament is the biggest tuneup for the U.S. Open later in August.


(The Baltimore Sun, AP)