A Pleasant Surprise

Magdalena Maleeva probably didn't expect much when she signed up for Budapest. Clay has not been kind to her, historically. Maleeva came in with seven career titles -- but only one, San Marino 1992, on clay, and that one very small. The rest of her titles have all been on hardcourts or indoors, and the biggest and best -- Zurich 1994, Chicago 1995 -- have been indoors. Her best Slam result was on hardcourts (1992 U. S. Open quarterfinal), and six of the eight times she's reached the Round of Sixteen at a Slam, it's been at one of the hardcourt majors.

It's a picture of someone who played Budapest more because it's close to home than anything else.

But Maleeva had an advantage over the rest of the field: She was by far the best player in the draw. Maleeva was briefly #4 in the world in 1996. The #2 seed, Ann Kremer, has never been above #27. Only two other players in the draw have been Top 25: Karina Habsudova was briefly #10 in 1997, but has fallen on hard times and is now out of the Top 100; Miriam Oremans was #25 for three weeks in 1993. Only a handful of others, such as Kristie Boogert, Denisa Chladkova, Tathiana Garbin, and Angeles Montolio, had ever been in the Top Fifty. Only two other players in the draw (Kremer and Montolio) were currently in the Top Fifty.

The final, against Kremer, was tough, and lasted three sets. But Maleeva won. With the win, she also made her way back into the Top Fifteen for the first time since 1996. And all she has to defend between now and Roland Garros is three opening-round losses. By winning Budapest, she all but assured herself a Roland Garros seed.

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