Seles Beats Graf In All-out Fight To Capture The French Open Title Steffi Graf Kept Battling Hard In A Dramatic Third Set. The Champion, However, Refused To Give An Inch.

Posted: June 07, 1992

PARIS — Steffi Graf called it a special match. Monica Seles said she would never forget it.

Wherever it ranks in the annals of Grand Slam tennis, this final was scintillating stuff.

For 2 hours, 43 minutes, Seles and Graf, the world's No. 1- and No. 2- ranked players in women's tennis, slugged it out on Center Court at Roland Garros. The third set alone took more than an hour and a half.

Finally, on her sixth match point of the long afternoon, Seles prevailed to win her third straight French Open title, 6-2, 3-6, 10-8.

"This was the most emotional match I've ever played," the giddily exhausted Seles said later. "I've never been in a 10-8 set before."

A few days from now, Graf might be able to look back with some pleasure on her gritty, emotional, crowd-pleasing performance, particularly the way she saved four match points when she was down, 5-3, in the third set.

But in the immediate aftermath, facing several hundred reporters, she looked and sounded distraught.

"Right now, there is no satisfaction," she said somberly. "That is for sure. I mean, it is great the way I came back, the way I fought every time. And, I mean, I think it was a very good effort. . . . But I am disappointed the way I played when I was leading."

After trailing the entire match, largely because of an astounding 66 unforced errors, the 22-year-old German finally took the lead at 6-5 in the third set, and again at 7-6. Both times, though, with the title in sight, she barely made Seles work to hold serve and even the set.

The remarkable match kept alive Seles' hope of winning all four Grand Slam events this year, assuming she can stand the pressure later this month at Wimbledon, the one major tournament she has never won.

That pressure will come as much off the court as on.

It was at Wimbledon last year that Seles gained international notoriety through her mysterious last-minute, unexplained withdrawal from the tournament, a move that prompted lurid speculation about her health, both mental and physical.

She knows the British tabloids can barely wait for her to set foot in the British Isles. She claims to be ready for whatever is coming her way.

"I know that there are going to be questions again from last year," she said yesterday. "I tell myself 'I am prepared for it.' You know, hey, this year, I am going there to play tennis. It doesn't matter what anybody is going to write."

But that is another story. There was nothing mysterious or lurid about what unfolded yesterday.

The match did not start out like a classic.

The first set was all Seles. With her distinctive two-hand backhand, her two-hand forehand and her two-syllable grunt, she dominated Graf, who kept hitting her forehand into the net or over the baseline. Games whizzed by. The set was over before many in the fashionably late Parisian crowd had settled into their seats.

Graf, though, was always the aggressor, or at least trying to be. Eventually, that approach, combined with her strong serve, got her back into the match.

Graf, winner here in 1987 and 1988, broke Seles in the fifth game of the second set, sending the crowd into prolonged chants of "Stef-fi, Stef-fi!" Seles broke back in the next game, but Graf responded in kind, winning on her opponent's serve again to lead, 4-3.

The next game was as spectacular as any in the match, with Graf alternately winning points with powerful forehands and cross-court volleys - and losing them with unforced errors. In the end, though, she held serve and went on to take the set.

All of which set the stage for the majestic third set.

Seles broke Graf in the third game of the third set and cruised to a 5-3 lead. Here, as before, Graf was carrying the action, either hitting winners or making errors, leaving Seles to play her accustomed role as indefatigable baseline retriever.

In the ninth game, on her own serve, Graf performed her dazzling escape act. She gave Seles four match points - and gave is the operative word. Each time, with the crowd groaning, Graf made an error to put Seles on the verge of a victory. And each time, with the crowd roaring, Graf abandoned all caution to hit a clear winner and keep the match alive.

Graf, seemingly blessed with unstoppable momentum, broke Seles to tie the set, 5-5, then held serve to take her first lead at 6-5.

Said Seles later in her own distinctive way: "I was really kind of not too happy when I had so many match points and, you know, I let Steffi get back in the match. I really felt, you know, maybe I have lost this match, hey."

Despite the crowd's cheering Graf's every move, Graf never came close to closing Seles out.

The 18-year-old Yugoslav held serve in a love game to make it 6-6. Graf held to lead again, 7-6, but Seles held again with ease.

"Every time, I gave her those games," Graf said. "I didn't really try, like the games before, to run everything down and to go for every shot. But it is difficult if you have to do that all the time."

By this point, both women were visibly dragging, the points seeming to develop in slow motion. On it went.

Seles, who looked the more tired of the two, won on Graf's serve to take an 8-7 lead, but Graf, again finding something extra when pressed, broke back to tie it again at 8-8. Then Seles broke Graf's serve one more time, sealing the game with a blistering backhand winner.

This time, Seles, serving for the match at 9-8, made no mistake, jumping to a 40-15 lead. Graf dodged the bullet a fifth time with a forehand winner. Then, on the sixth match point, she hit a forehand straight into the net, unforced error No. 66 of a match that seemed like it would never end.

THE RESULTS

SEEDINGS IN PARENTHESES.

MEN'S DOUBLES

Final: Jakob Hlasek, Switzerland, and Marc Rosset, Switzerland, def. David Adams, Australia, and Andrei Olhovskiy, Russia, 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (3-7), 7-5.

MIXED DOUBLES

Final: Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain, and Todd Woodbridge (2), Australia, def. Lori McNeil, Houston, and Bryan Shelton, Huntsville, Ala., 6-2, 6-3.

WOMEN'S SINGLES

Final: Monica Seles (1), Yugoslavia, def. Steffi Graf (2), Germany, 6-2, 3-6, 10-8.

WOMEN'S DOUBLES

Semifinals: Conchita Martinez, Spain, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (4), Spain, def. Jana Novotna, Czechoslovakia, and Larisa Savchenko-Neiland (1), Latvia, 6-3, 6-2.

BOYS' SINGLES

Semifinals: Mose Navarra, Italy, def. Lars Burgsmuller, Germany, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3. Andrei Pavel, Romania, def. Nicolas Kischkewitz, France, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.

BOYS' DOUBLES

Final: Enrique Abaroa, Mexico, and Grant Doyle, Australia, def. Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Russia, and Alex Radulescu, Romania, 7-6, (7-0),6-3.

GIRLS' SINGLES

Semifinals: Rosana De Los Rios, Paraguay, def. Catalina Cristea, Romania, 6-4, 6-3. Paola Suarez, Argentina, def. Lindsay Davenport, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

GIRLS' DOUBLES

Final: Laurence Courtois, Belgium, and Nancy Feber, Belgium, def. Lindsay Davenport, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., and Chanda Rubin, Lafayette, La., 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.

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