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The power of positive thinking: Majoli wins match of her career

June 7, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ For two weeks, they talked about Martina, about Steffi, and occasionally about Monica. But nobody picked Iva Majoli to win the French Open _ even when she made the finals.

Somehow the 19-year-old Croatian, slipping quietly through the draw while others made headlines, found a way to turn all the doubts into fuel for positive thinking.

``I am the underdog. But I will not surrender,″ Majoli said when she reached the finals. ``In a final, everybody has a chance.″

Majoli took that chance and ran with it, stunning top-ranked Martina Hingis 6-4, 6-2 Saturday. She became the lowest-seeded player, at No. 9, to win a Grand Slam women’s title in the Open era.

To do it, Majoli had to overcome a lot more than just meeting Hingis, the 16-year-old Swiss prodigy, in the finals.

She also overcame a nasty virus that had her sweating, coughing and sneezing through the night before her semifinal match against Amanda Coetzer. Though the South African was seeded 11th, Majoli was also considered the underdog in that match.

Majoli was still blowing her nose on the court Saturday, and she acknowledged she was on antibiotics and taking ``lots of medication.″

Even before the virus did its damage, Majoli was nearly felled by another foe: Lindsay Davenport. In their fourth-round match, the U.S. player was up a set and leading 4-0 in the second.

That was when the power of positive thinking took over. Majoli won six straight games to take the set at 6-4, then took the third set 6-2.

That match ``gave me a lot of confidence,″ she said. ``Against Lindsay, I saw that even when I’m losing a lot, I’m strong.″

``I was concentrating really hard,″ she said. ``It does help. It does help.″

It was that attitude that prevailed on Saturday, even when Majoli faced what appeared to be a bit of gamesmanship by Hingis, who’s also a good friend on the tour.

Right after Majoli had broken for 3-2 in the third set, putting her up a set and a break, her opponent suddenly took a bathroom break, leaving the court for several minutes.

It appeared to be an attempt by Hingis to regroup. ``I think, does she really have to go to the bathroom?″ Majoli said later.

But here too, she found a way to think positive, deciding to use the break to collect her own thoughts, plan her strategy, and ``think about what I should maybe improve a little bit.″

If it was gamesmanship by Hingis, it backfired. Majoli won the next three games for the championship.

Watching her play the younger and smaller Hingis, it was easy to forget that Majoli herself is a teenager. She made her first appearance in a Grand Slam event when she was barely 15, at the 1992 U.S. Open.

But she’s had her best success on the clay courts of Roland Garros, making the quarterfinals three times.

``This has always been my favorite Grand Slam,″ Majoli said. ``I’ve always dreamed of getting to the final.″

Majoli’s win was also a first for Croatia. The country’s other big tennis hope, Goran Ivanisevic, has come close but never captured a Grand Slam title.

Back in Croatia, people honked their car horns wildly when Majoli won.

``Enjoy a sight that we will surely remember the rest of our lives,″ tennis commentator Mico Dusanovic told the TV audience there.

What is Majoli’s next dream? To win even one match at Wimbledon, where she’s been shut out in every attempt, both in singles and doubles.

She has a strategy for that, too. ``I’m going to eat grass,″ she said.

On Saturday morning, she must have had some clay for breakfast.

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