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SELES: GRUNT AND GIGGLE ARE BACK

SHARE SELES: GRUNT AND GIGGLE ARE BACK

Hit and giggle tennis is back in prime time.

Monica Seles made a triumphant return to the U.S. Open with a display of hard-hitting tennis, needing only 56 minutes to trample Ruxandra Dragomir of Romania 6-3, 6-1 in her first-round match Monday.Then came another winning performance in her giggle-filled news conference.

"I was nervous," Seles said of her first match at the National Tennis Center since she captured the women's singles title in 1992. "I was just real nervous that I was going to play the Open."

Sidelined since being stabbed during a tournament in April 1993, Seles returned to the sport two weeks ago in Toronto, winning the Canadian Open. She hasn't lost a match at the U.S. Open since falling in the third round in 1990.

Dragomir, who had never played Seles before, was impressed.

"She is unbelievable," the Romanian said. "I couldn't even imagine that she is that good."

Seles is seeded second behind the co-favorite, Steffi Graf, who was scheduled to play her opening round match today against Amanda Coetzer in an intriguing rematch.

The unseeded South African upset Graf in the second round of the Canadian Open two weeks ago. It was Graf's first loss of the year in 33 matches.

Coetzer, currently ranked 21st in the world, pulled off two more upsets in Toronto, ousting Jana Novotna and Mary Pierce before losing to Seles in the final.

Andre Agassi, the defending men's champion and No. 1 seed, will follow Graf onto Stadium Court, taking on Bryan Shelton, whose only two ATP Tour titles have come on grass at Newport, R.I.

Then comes No. 2 Pete Sampras, who won here in 1990 and 1993. Sampras will play Fernando Meligeni of Brazil.

Other matches today involving seeded players pit No. 4 Conchita Martinez against Kathy Rinaldi-Stunkel, No. 5 Novotna against Sandra Cecchini, No. 7 Kimiko Date against Silke Meier, No. 10 Lindsay Davenport against Petra Kamstra, No. 11 Anke Huber against Yayuk Basuki, No. 12 Natasha Zvereva against Jana Kandarr, No. 13 Iva Majoli against Barbara Paulus and No. 14 Mary Joe Fernandez against Judith Weisner.

Also scheduled to play today were No. 7 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, No. 9 Thomas Enqvist, No. 11 Sergi Bruguera, No. 13 Marc Rosset, No. 14 Jim Courier and No. 15 Todd Martin.

Seles appeared to be in a hurry to get into the next round when she finally got on Stadium Court. She took no time between serves, and was always waiting for Dragomir to settle down for the next point to begin. She said it was nerves.

"Today is very different obviously because it is the first time you are going out there to play at the Open," Seles said. "I mean, there is so much excitement, so much nervousness.

"I went out there just trying to focus on the ball, and I wasn't focusing on the ball. I was hitting them as they were coming. I was missing them as they were coming. I had no plans."

All the time she talked, she smiled, obviously pleased to be back on a tennis court and playing in a Grand Slam tournament. But her nervousness showed in her giggling and in the way she constantly drummed with her left hand.

"Tonight, I was having fun, but . . . my face was so serious," Seles said. "I said, `Relax, Monica, your face, you are so tight.' My muscles were just like so tight. But that is normal, I think. As the matches go on, I will be more relaxed."

While Seles was the star of the show's opening night, the women's defending champion raced through her first round easily as third-seeded Arantxa Sanchez Vicario crushed Romanian Catalina Cristea 6-1, 6-1.

"I think it is normal that all the attention is on Monica," Sanchez Vicario said. "I mean, she is back and after two years. It is normal that all the attention is on her.

"It is better in some ways for me because it will take the pressure off for me."