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August 29, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Now let’s see, Monica won the Australian and French Opens but lost at Wimbledon to Steffi, who lost at the Olympics to Jennifer. Gabriela took a 52- day layoff after Wimbledon, while Monica was losing to Martina in Los Angeles and to Arantxa in Montreal.

So who does that leave as the women’s favorite for the U.S. Open, which starts Monday?

″Nobody,″ said Billie Jean King, a four-time winner of the event. ″It’s a wide open Open.″

In a sport where first names suffice for identification, the scramble is on at the top.

Defending champion Monica Seles, her trademark grunt parked for the time being, goes in as the Open’s top seed after dominating the tournament a year ago. She’s also fighting one of the worst slumps of her career.

Seles had won the last five Grand Slam events she entered before Graf beat her at Wimbledon. More alarming, perhaps, were back-to-back losses this month to Martina Navratilova at trhe Virginia Slims of Los Angeles and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario at rthe Canadian Open in Montreal. That gave her three straight tournament losses for the first time since 1990.

″It’s not just the losses, because each one was different,″ Seles said. ″It’s just that my game has not been at the same level in the last three or four weeks.″

Seles beat Navratilova handily at the Open a year ago, a surgical straight- sets wipeout that some thought might have been the last hurrah for the 35- year-old. Then she beat Navratilova in three sets in the Wimbledon semis. That’s why Martina’s victory over Seles in Los Angeles was such a stunning reversal.

″This opens it up a little bit,″ Navratilova said. ″It’s a great confidence booster. The people who were writing me off will have to stop and say, ’Wait a minute. Maybe I jumped the gun.‴

Seles then moved on to Montreal and reached the finals. Her opponent was Sanchez Vicario, considered easy pickings since Seles had beaten her 10 straight times. The streak ended with Sanchez Vicario winning in three sets.

″I played good and I beat her,″ Sanchez Vicario said. ″I’m not surprised. I’m happy. I played her 10 times before and lost, but everything has to break sometime.″

Where did that leave Seles’ prospects for the Open?

″I’d just like to get my game back,″ she said.

Navratilova’s Los Angeles victory advanced her to No. 3 in the rankings. That’s where the four-time champion is seeded for the Open, behind Seles and Steffi Graf, who was beaten by Jennifer Capriati for the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona.

Graf is at her best in Grand Slam tournaments with 11 victories, including the Australian-French-Wimbledon-Open sweep in 1988. Since 1989, though, she has won just three Slam events, the Australian in 1990 and then consecutive Wimbledons last year and this year. She comes into the Open nursing a sore shoulder.

Graf downed Gabriela Sabatini in Wimbledon’s semis before defeating Seles for the crown. Sabatini then took nearly two months off, practicing her serve and forehand before returning for last week’s Mazda Tennis Classic. ″Mainly,″ she said, ″I’m trying to be aggressive. Mentally, I want to be well-prepared.″

Graf went from Wimbledon to Barcelona and was favored against Capriati, who has never reached a Grand Slam final and was on something of a treadmill, threatening a breakthrough but never quite managing it - until the Olympics.

When the 16-year-old won the gold medal, ending Graf’s 17-match winning streak, she was ecstatic. ″Right now, it probably ranks above any Grand Slam for me,″ she said.

Capriati is No. 6 in the rankings, the same position she has in the Open seedings. She also has wins over each of the five players ranked ahead of her; the gold-medal victory over Graf completed the set. ″This is a big step for me - proving to myself I can beat all of them,″ she said.

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