MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, JAN. 26 (SATURDAY) -- Monica Seles, cutting the angles of her two-fisted strokes sharper and sharper after a perfect start by Jana Novotna, became the youngest Australian Open women's champion in history today.

After silently scattering shots off the court at the start, Seles seemed to remember to grunt -- and seemed to zero in on the lines with her two-fisted ground strokes to beat Jana Novotna 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 Saturday.

Seles, four months younger than Margaret Court when she won the Australian in 1960, also is poised to take over the No. 1 ranking Steffi Graf grabbed at 18 in 1987 and has held for 180 consecutive weeks.

"I'm excited, no question, but I know there are things I have to work on," said Seles, who beat Graf to win the French Open last year for her other Grand Slam title. "I can get a lot better. I have to."

A pulled hamstring muscle at the end of the first set weakened Novotna, who played perfectly at the start but faded to lose nine of the last 10 games in the match.

Novotna didn't make an error while breaking Seles in the first game, then holding in the second. Seles had seven errors in those two games.

Strangely, Seles seemed to forget to grunt at the start as she lazily poked balls long and wide and into the net. Once she started her usual two-toned squeal, she began hitting winners again.

Novotna broke Seles with a deep backhand approach shot in the 11th game of the opening set, but as the match wore on, Seles' sharply angled ground strokes landed closer to the lines, forcing Novotna to stretch and lunge more in each game.

"At the end of the first set, I was still feeling pretty good because I was able to hang on until that final break," Seles said. "In the second set, I just got mad. You can't play this way against her. She was just trying to slow the pace. In the third set, I was more confident, and she was making too many mistakes. After I broke at 30 and held my serve {in the fourth game} I thought I was on top."

Novotna, 22, a Czechoslovak who made brilliant strides in this Grand Slam event by beating Zina Garrison, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Graf on the way to the final, couldn't keep up with Seles' torrent of ground strokes.

This match, Novotna said, was totally different from the one against Graf. "Steffi has a weakness {the backhand passing shot} and I took advantage of it," Novotna said. "Monica has other weaknesses but it is very difficult to use them. She doesn't move forward as well, but how are you going to use a drop shot against her when she keeps you at the base line?"

Novotna slugged an easy forehand volley long as Seles broke her to lead 2-0 in the second set. After Seles held for 3-0, Novotna swept the next three games, breaking Seles at love in the fifth game. Seles took the next three games and the set, breaking Novotna in the eighth game when Novotna hit three forehand errors on the final three points.

"The first set took a lot out of me," said Novotna, who said she tired at 3-3 in the second set. "Monica produced some great shots. I knew in the third set that it was going to be tough to be in long rallies and I started to press a little."

After Novotna held to open the final set, Seles dropped only five points while streaking through the next five games for a 5-1 lead.

Novotna moved to 40-0 in the sixth game, and it looked as if she would get one more chance. But Seles fought back to the first of three deuces on a long forehand, saved another game point on a backhand passing shot down the line and a fifth on a forehand service return. Novotna then double-faulted, giving Seles match point. When Novotna's backhand volley went long, Seles skipped in joy to the net across the court where temperatures registered 130 degrees.

Seles, a native of Yugoslavia who lives in Sarasota, Fla., won $250,000 and captured the trophy that has gone to Graf the past three years. Seles may be able to take Graf's top spot in the rankings by beating the German in a tournament in Tokyo next week.

Regardless of the rankings, Novotna said Graf should be regarded as the best in women's tennis. "I would still go with Steffi," she said. "It's difficult to say, but on all courts, all kinds of surfaces, I think Steffi is better."

Seles too thought it might be premature to call her No. 1.

"I still think my {No. 2} ranking is a very fair ranking," she said.