WIMBLEDON -- As far as Monica Seles is concerned, the stuffed tiger in Katarina Studenikova's tennis bag was more aggressive than Seles herself was while getting upset yesterday by the 59th-ranked player from Slovakia.
"I definitely had a chance to close out the third set a zillion times," said Seles after she was beaten, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4, in the second round. "But I just didn't go for my shots. I was waiting for her to make the errors, and she wasn't doing that."
Studenikova was nearly flawless yesterday. She ran around her backhand, a la Steffi Graf, and she hit backhand slices wickedly low and sharp so often that Seles seemed mesmerized.
"I just kept hitting to her backhand," she lamented. "I don't know why."
It was just another major upset at Wimbledon, where the men's seeds have fallen in record numbers. But it was the first major upset on the women's side of the draw.
Seles, the No. 2 seed, was expected to move along in this draw, and if all went well be around for the dreamed-of final confrontation against Graf. In 16 previous Grand Slams, Seles had never lost this early.
But Studenikova put an end to the Seles-Graf dream and started her own from some meager construction.
In three previous tries here, she had never gotten out of the first round. Going into this match, she had never beaten a Top 10 player. And, she arrived here without her coach, Tibor Krta, and prepared with four days of practice against her boyfriend.
It was not exactly a traditional warm-up for the All-England Club, but Studenikova doesn't seem to be a traditionalist.
She doesn't like grass.
And she doesn't always react the way one might expect.
The 23-year-old had played Seles in the second round of the Australian Open and was beaten badly, 6-1, 6-1. But instead of being demoralized, she was encouraged.
"I said to myself that it's possible to win against her because when I lost to her, I didn't play well," she said. "I think I have improved my serve since then, and I also played more aggressive. So I said, 'OK, on the grass I can win.'
"I knew on the grass she will have problems with my backhand slice. But I thought she will go to the net more. So it was good for me that she didn't go to the net more. I liked that she didn't go. I liked it very much."
Studenikova had taken advantage of every situation offered to her. Seles went up 3-1 in the first set and was serving for the set at 5-4. But then Studenikova began the play that excited the Court 1 crowd. She broke Seles with that treacherous backhand, held her own serve and broke Seles again.
"I used to be able to identify a problem and then change tactics during a match," said Seles, trying to figure out what happened. "But maybe I'm not thinking as fast since coming back. Maybe it's a lack of confidence that I'm able to go for my shots when I'm up 40-0 but I'm not so comfortable doing it when it's 30-30."
But Seles won the second set, with a three-game run that just about whipped the woman who had no big wins to draw from. She was up 3-2 in the third set when a peculiar thing occurred.
It rained. On Court 1. While play continued on all the outside courts and was delayed only a few minutes on Centre Court, Court 1 was covered with a tarp for 36 minutes.
"I think the rain delay helped me a little bit," said Studenikova. "I was a little bit tired at the beginning of the third set, and also I was a little bit disappointed that I lost the second set, because I had 5-4, but then it was 5-6, 5-7. So then I thought, 'Oh, I cannot win.' "
But then the rain came and she retreated to the locker room with her stuffed tiger, and reconsidered.
"I thought I was playing well and finally, as I sat there, I just said to myself, 'OK, come on, you can win this match. You know you can.' "
And she did, sweeping the last four games to complete the upset.
"This is my best day," she said. "I couldn't win the tough matches before, and now I've finally, finally won one."
Pub Date: 6/27/96