Seles Leaves No Doubts in Tennis Return

AFTER an absence of 2-1/2 years, Monica Seles made a spectacular return to competitive tennis in the just-completed Canadian Open in Toronto. No one came close to challenging her. She lost only two games in semifinal and final victories over Gabriela Sabatini and Amanda Coetzer, respectively. Steffi Graf, potentially her chief rival, lost earlier in the tournament.

Seles's main challenger in her return, many observers felt, was her own mental attitude. Would the desire to play still be there after a long recovery from a knife attack on the game's No. 1 player at a 1993 tournament in Hamburg, Germany? After such a long absence, there was some speculation that she would retire rather than try to regroup.

What happened in Toronto was a victory for the athletic spirit that burns within anyone at the top levels of sport. Seles's comeback also was a triumph over terrorism and a clear signal to young players that pushing back from the game doesn't have to lead to a diminution of skill. One's career doesn't have to be played in one concentrated, white-hot blaze.

Football Bills peer across border

OF the major professional team sports played in the United States, football is the only one where players from other countries are virtually invisible. Major-league baseball imports scores of players from Latin America; the National Hockey League is rich in Canadians; the National Basketball Association can point to Europeans.

The National Football League hasn't exactly jumped on the bandwagon, although it has revived a spinoff league in Europe. There simply isn't a football feeder outside the US, which makes what has happened in Buffalo, N.Y., interesting. The NFL Bills listed five Canadians on their roster before a recent preseason game against Dallas in the Toronto SkyDome. Not all will make the final cut, but this nonetheless represents a distinctly higher Canadian profile than anybody is accustomed to.

''We might lead the league with Canadian players, but it's not by design,'' says John Butler, Buffalo's general manager. ''It doesn't matter where you come from. If you can play or you have a chance, we're going to take a look at you.''

Buffalo, of course, sits practically on the US-Canadian border and coach Mavy Levy once led the Montreal Aloutettes to two Canadian Football League championships.

Soccer player is a mouthful

AMERICAN soccer teams, especially those tucked away in indoor leagues, expend extra effort to attract attention. The lengths to which they go is evident in a search conducted by the San Jose Grizzlies of the Continental Indoor Soccer League.

The team set out to find if any other Bay Area pro athletes, past or present, had a name longer than that of Grizzly defender Frank Van Den Brand Horninge. None was found.

The 24 letters in Van Den Brand Horninge's name surpass the 20 claimed by San Francisco Giants outfielder William Van Landingham. In fact, the Grizzlies found no other pro team athletes, in or out of the Bay Area, who can match Van Den Brand Horninge and conclude that possibly no one in sports history can top him.

When the teachers would take roll call in school, he says he would just answer ''here'' when they said ''Frank.''

Touching other bases

* Pop quiz: The roster for the 1996 US Olympic men's basketball team is nearly set. Who has been named to join Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon (now a US citizen) in playing the pivot? (Answer at end.)

* The under-17 world soccer championship for boys ended Sunday in Ecuador and the tournament winner was neither Argentina, Brazil, Germany, nor up-and-coming power Nigeria. Instead, surprising Ghana made off with the title, beating Brazil 3-2 in the final.

* Those unaware of the inroads golf is making internationally might be surprised to learn that the Czech Open just ended in the Czech Republic. It is a stop on the European PGA Tour and was won by Peter Teravainen, an American living in Singapore, who collected the $200,000 winner's share Sunday.

* Quiz answer: David Robinson. The Annapolis graduate captured last season's National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player award even though his team, the San Antonio Spurs, failed to make the NBA Finals, where the Houston Rockets, with Hakeem Olajuwon, defeated the Orlando Magic, with Shaquille O'Neal. Robinson will be making his third trip to the Olympics, a record for an American male basketball player. Olajuwon and O'Neal will be making their Olympic debuts.

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