Triumphant Seles slams Graf errors
Monica Seles ruthlessly punished Steffi Graf for missed opportunities in Melbourne, yesterday, and went on to win the seventh of the last eight Grand Slam tournaments in which she has played.
In an Australian Open final worthy of the occasion, but which had an increasing air of inevitability about it once Seles started to move ahead in the second set, the world No 1 beat the world No 2 player 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in one hour and 49 minutes.
There were spells, before she crumpled in the middle of the final set, when Graf played to the absolute limit of her known ability. But it was still not enough to break the spirit or the steely resolve of a champion who some are already saying is the strongest women's champion of all time.
Graf, while too disappointed to appreciate how much she had contributed to a splendid final, especially the sustained high quality of the first two sets, did not need any prompting to explain why Seles had matched her own Australian Open record - and that of Evonne Goolagong - by winning this first Grand Slam event of the year for a third consecutive time.
'There were times in the second set when I wasn't aggressive enough, especially by not going for her second serve. And though there were many times when I pushed her out wide during rallies, I never came in enough to try and take advantage of that,' she said.
This was particularly so in the tense early stages of the third set when the Seles grunt, which had hardly been noticeable in the first set, started to reflect the added stress which was developing as everyone sensed that the first breakthrough would be decisive.
Serving at 2-3, 30-0, there was a classic example of Graf's repeated and disastrous reluctance to volley. Three times she unleashed ferocious forehands which had Seles running from side to side and should have been an open invitation for the German to go to the net.
She declined each time and, as often happened, was eventually beaten on a marvellous Seles return.
Indeed, Graf, who used a most unladylike German term to express her feelings, went on to lose the game -and also a chance to break back in the next when Seles, who had earlier produced one delivery which equalled the women's fastest of the week at 108mph, struck a devastating ace.
Margaret Court, who won seven consecutive Australian titles in amateur days, before 1968, and four more later, was among those who watched admiringly as Seles, despite losing the first set because of one loose game, played with such tenacity -and, often on her service returns, such ferocity.
The 39-minute first set was a treat. Both players were superb, as Graf surprisingly attacked Seles' forehand more than usual, and Seles, as ever, pummelled Graf's backhand.
Graf broke for 3-1 but was then broken back in the next game, after being unfort- unate with a baseline call which made the difference between her being 15-30 and 0-40, but in the 10th game, taking her cue from a double fault to 15-40 by Seles, she attacked the next serve well enough to snatch the set.
On the evidence of this tournament, it is difficult to see anyone taking over from Seles as the dominant force in women's tennis for some time.
Although Seles dismisses the belief that she and Graf are constantly pushing one another to improve, she now strikes the ball with greater power than anyone else in the women's game and simply refuses to be beaten.