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Seles makes victorious return

Monica Seles, seldom seen but still a familiar face in these parts, began another comeback Friday.

In her first match this year, Seles beat Naoko Sawamatsu 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 at the Lipton Championships.

The match was Seles' first since she broke her right index finger while catching a serve during an exhibition in December. Her return was delayed because her father, Karolj, has been undergoing chemotherapy for stomach cancer.

The match was also Seles' first at Lipton since 1992, and the first in her home state since she became a U.S. citizen in 1994.

"This has always been one of my favorite tournaments," she said. "I'm really glad I was finally able to play it again."

Seles won Lipton in 1990 and 1991. She left the WTA Tour for two years after being stabbed in the back during a match in Germany in 1993.

Seles lost her share of the No. 1 ranking in November and has slipped to fifth. She sheepishly admitted that while her finger feels fine, she's not in the best of shape.

"I haven't done anything. I haven't done too much but practice a lot the last two weeks. The next four or five weeks I'm playing tournaments, and I'll have time to focus on tennis, not distractions."

Martina Hingis, on the verge of becoming the world's top-ranked player, rallied from the brink of defeat in her opening match to beat Patricia Hy-Boulais 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Even a loss wouldn't have prevented Hingis from replacing Steffi Graf as the WTA's top-ranked player on March 31. At age 16, Hingis will become the youngest No. 1 in history.

On the men's side, fourth-seeded Goran Ivanisevic beat Byron Black 6-3, 6-3. Three lengthy rain delays forced the postponement of more than a dozen matches, including one involving top seed Pete Sampras.

Seles struggled with rusty timing but also showed flashes of the form that has helped her win nine Grand Slams.

"I was really nervous," Seles said. "Waiting around all day made me that much more nervous."

She spanked baseline winners from both sides and twice topped 100 mph with her serve _ a weakness last year because of a chronic shoulder ailment. And she shook off a shaky stretch in the second set.

Seles raced to a 4-0 lead in the final set, twice breaking Sawamatsu's serve at 15. When the victory was complete, she waved, smiled, then signed autographs on her way off the court.

Hingis improved to 21-0 this year. But she dropped her racket twice, threw it once and smacked a ball into the sixth row before she rallied against Hy-Boulais.