Seles storms into the semi-finals - Wimbledon 1992
Wednesday, July 1, 1992
Andrew Longmore, Tennis Correspondent
AND on the eighth day, it rained. Not hard but enough to postpone the opening two women's quarter-finals for over three hours. By the time play was called off at 9.01pm, the gloom was Stygian, the street lights had been switched on and Gabriela Sabatini was on the verge of joining the other three leading seeds in the semi-finals.
The Argentinian was leading Jennifer Capriati 5-3 in the final set and serving for the match when the referee, Alan Mills, succumbed to the American's increasingly frantic appeals for a postponement. Not surprisingly, Sabatini was less than amused by the decision. To come out today possibly to play one game is unsatisfactory for crowd and players. Tennis's equivalent of the penalty shoot-out.
It was a difficult day for officials, who wanted to give the centre-court crowd full value and complete their women's schedule, particularly because the forecast for today is not good. But their gamble that the third set would end quickly was thwarted by Capriati's spirited fightback from 3-0 and 4-2 down. In retrospect, it would have been wiser to call it off when the No.6 seed had levelled at the end of the second set, though Capriati's father, Stefano, had advised his daughter to continue.
There had been much hanging about earlier in the day, but none on court when the rain did stop. Monica Seles and Steffi Graf took 55 minutes each to beat Nathalie Tauziat and Natalia Zvereva respectively, while Martina Navratilova had rather more of a struggle to overcome Katerina Maleeva. It was as well Seles finished when she did because Tauziat had asked the umpire to silence the Yugoslav's grunt.
"I complained to the umpire and he was going to have words at the next changeover, but the match was finished by then, so he never had a chance," Tauziat said.
If Sabatini wins today, the Argentinian will play Graf in a repeat of last year's final and Seles, the top seed, will take on Navratilova for the first time this year. She leads 6-5 in their matches, but they have never played on grass. It will be Seles's first Wimbledon semi-final and Navratilova's 15th.
Seles had never been beyond the quarter-final at Wimbledon and has been trying to convince herself over the past few weeks not to be satisfied simply by reaching the last eight. Tauziat, the No. 14 seed, is a neat all-round player, but does not have the weight of serve or the aggression to hustle Seles out of her purposeful stride.
The French player from Bayonne (a Bayonette, perhaps) took 15 minutes to find her bearings on the centre court, forgetting that if you give Seles 15 minutes, she will take five games. Hitting ferociously off both sides, serving with surprising force she has recorded the fastest serve (107 mph) on centre court and picking off winners at will, she played the tiger to Tauziat's mouse. She lead 5-0 before Tauziat, amid much applause, won her first game and began to work out what she had to do.
Early in the second set, she even began doing it, keeping Seles on the move as much as possible and showing more discretion in going to the net. She even gained enough in confidence to complain about Seles's grunting. "I think the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) have to do something about it," Tauziat said.
For a while, Seles looked bemused and her passing shots began to go astray, but she pulled herself together just in time and, with ruthless efficienty, broke twice to reach her first Wimbledon semi-final, 6-1, 6-3.
The fallibility of the nine-times champion's serve against Maleeva yesterday does not augur well for her chances of survival. The Bulgarian went to the net more than usual and broke back as Navratilova, her nerves jangling, served for the match at 5-4.But Navratilova reasserted her dominance in the tie-break for a 6-3, 7-6 victory. She is looking forward to test Seles too, grunt and all.
"This is an opportunity to find out how good she really is. I also find the grunting a distraction. In practice, she doesn't make a noise, so she doesn't have to do it. You depend on hearing the ball on the racket."