IT'S DOWN TO SELES AND GRAF
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Friday, July 3, 1992
The sound, an overpowering two-tone groan, lasts for a couple seconds.
It can be heard any time Monica Seles swings a racket. It's part squeal, part grunt, and yesterday it got to Martina Navratilova during her semifinal match with the world's top-ranked women's tennis player.
Until umpire Fran McDowell summoned Seles during the second set and said, quietly, "Would you please keep it down."
Seles turned down the volume after the reprimand and still took a thrilling three-set victory over Navratilova, 6-2, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, to keep her Grand Slam hopes alive.
She advanced to her first Wimbledon final, where tomorrow she will face Steffi Graf, the three-time champion. Graf played one of her best matches ever at the All England Club yesterday in taking care of Gabriela Sabatini, 6-3, 6-3.
Navratilova, who had never complained about Seles' grunting in their 11 previous matches, quietly talked to McDowell about it a few minutes before the umpire called Seles over to the chair.
"I was on my heels a couple of times because I thought she hit it hard and she did not," Navratilova said. "I couldn't hear (the ball being hit)."
Seles, seeded No. 1, said there were two or three crucial points after the warning when she told herself, "Monica, don't grunt, don't grunt."
There were also times when Seles wasn't acting like the player who had won the last five Grand Slam tournaments she'd entered. She often looked tentative as she stayed on the baseline, while the fourth-seeded Navratilova was moving to the net, pumping her fists, pumping herself up.
"I had a hard time even winning points from the back court, not coming to the net," said Seles, who skipped Wimbledon last year. "And the one thing today that I think kind of let me down is the serve. I was mostly just dropping my first serves in, and I really wanted to serve much stronger."
The last set could have gone to either player. Navratilova squandered three
break points in the fifth game. Six of the last seven games went to duece. In the one game that didn't, Seles was serving for the match, ahead by 5-3 in the set, and won one only point, as Navratilova, dancing around the net, volleyed for a couple winners.
With the break, Navratilova was back on serve. But she hit a forehand volley into the net and missed wide with a backhand, then watched Seles hit a backhand winner. Navratilova saved one match point with a backhand volley that had Seles shaking her head. But on match point No. 2, Seles passed Navratilova with a backhand.
"I was just a little slow on some of the volleys," Navratilova said. ''She hits the ball so hard even when she doesn't place it well. Just the sheer pace of the ball ends up beating you."
The match between Sabatini, the No. 3 seed, and Graf, seeded second, was much quieter, lacking in drama. Graf made sure of that.
She lost eight points on her serve the entire match. In the last game, with Sabatini serving, Graf blew five match points before she passed Sabatini with a cross-court forehand, just as she had been doing all afternoon.
"Sometimes I just felt like I did not know what to do," Sabatini said. ''I tried to come to the net . . . and just nothing happened."
Sabatini said she had never seen Graf play so well. Everything was working for her. She whipped returns right by Sabatini before she had a chance to move. Cross court, down the line, it didn't matter.
"I think I'm really going for my shots," said Graf, who last month lost to Seles in a scintillating French Open final, 6-2, 3-6, 10-8, that lasted 2 hours, 43 minutes. "I'm really going for my forehands. I'm doing that pretty well."
Sabatini, who was mixing her shots beautifully in her earlier matches, had beaten Graf seven of the previous eight times they played, but the one victory by Graf was in last year's Wimbledon final. Sabatini has never beaten Graf on grass.
"I think I have a stronger serve," Graf said. "I think that's really important on that surface, and I think I'm able to be more aggressive than her, I think, with the kind of game that I have."
Even when Sabatini was able to pull off a sensational shot, it wasn't enough. With her back to the net, she hit a ball between her legs from the baseline, and it cleared the net. Graf smacked it back. Sabatini returned. The rally continued, and Graf hit another forehand winner.
"I did not have much chances," Sabatini said.