Seles and Graf Find Different Ways Into Final
By ROBIN FINN,
Published: July 3, 1992
New York Times
WIMBLEDON, England, July 2 Steffi Graf, the silent champion, and Monica Seles, the grunter whose bark is apparently just as devastating as her bite, used different sound tracks today to reach the same destination: the women's final at Wimbledon on Saturday.
While Graf punched onto and off Center Court like an efficiency expert working from a 73-minute timer, Seles, who seems to wear controversy like an extra set of clothing, needed nearly two hours and full support from her vocal cords to reach her sixth consecutive final in the Grand Slam events she has participated in. Seles, who did not play at Wimbledon last summer, has collected a winner's trophy in each of her previous five Grand Slam finals, and obtained the last of them at Graf's expense after their 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 marathon at last month's French Open.
Today, Graf, the defending Wimbledon champion, played the purest of power games to perplex Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, the same player the German defeated, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6, in last year's final. This time Graf, emboldened by a pungent first serve that allowed her to play more creatively than usual, dazzled Sabatini in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3.
As usual, Seles did not provide a quiet performance here despite a prematch hubbub regarding the decibel level of her grunts. But her persistent opponent, the 20-year Wimbledon veteran Martina Navratilova, was reluctant to make a quick or quiet exit from her favorite court, site of her acquisition of a record nine Wimbledon singles titles.
Seles, No. 1 in the world and just one victory away from claiming the third leg of the Grand Slam for 1992, eventually whittled away the fourth-seeded player's resolve with her trademark boomerang ground strokes and gained a 6-2, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4 victory that spoiled Navratilova's hopes of "going for double digits."
When the match ended, Navratilova, who twice complained to the chair umpire, Fran McDowell, about noise pollution from Seles's lusty grunts and gutturals, buried her head in a green towel. Although she vowed to return next year, Navratilova was clearly less than delighted to add an 11th singles loss to her rather prepossessing assortment of 108 victories here.
"I think she would have beaten me even without the grunt," said the 35-year-old Navratilova, "but you cannot hear the ball being hit. I know when the level of intensity goes up, your level of making noises goes up, but she's making it on every single shot."
Seles, who has been pressed to apologize for everything from her nonappearance here last year to her tight tennis skirts, calmly reiterated that she doesn't employ her grunt as an incendiary device aimed at distracting opponents.
"I would really love to get rid of it so I don't have to go through this," said the 18-year-old Seles. "But you know, it was such a tense match. I tried to keep it down, and I hope that next year when I come back here I won't be grunting."
Navratilova found herself in the unflattering position of being perpetually required to break back on Seles's serve throughout the match, where her only spurt of dominance came as she won the second-set tie breaker.
"My problem was that I could not get even; it was always an uphill struggle throughout the whole match," said Navratilova, who produced her most sublime volleys while taking a 6-2 lead in the tie breaker. Seles denied Navratilova her first set point with a richocheting backhand return, but allowed her to convert the second when, accompanied by a piercing squeal of dismay, she rapped a crosscourt backhand wide of her intended mark.
Navratilova managed to break her opponent as Seles attempted to serve for the match, but Seles, a Yugoslav who now lives in Florida, immediately struck back by undermining Navratilova's serve for a fifth time.
A scorching backhand pass down the line, as unreachable as a comet, streaked by Navratilova to end this raucous ordeal on Seles's second match point.
"It seems that when it gets close, the player that is No. 1 handles the pressure better than the contenders," Navratilova asserted.
Navratilova said Seles's ambidextrous power source proved as big a stumbling block as the deafening exhalations that accompanied each of her two-fisted lasers.
"I knew she'd turn it up a notch if I got close," said Navratilova, who has, with a mixture of resignation and envy, accused Seles of hitting the ball harder the more tired she gets.
"A couple of times just the pace of her ball beat me," Navratilova said. "I was there, I got my racquet back, but I just could not see it. She hits the ball so hard, even when she doesn't place it well, that the sheer pace ends up beating you."
'One of the Best'
The 22-year-old Sabatini, who had defeated Graf in seven of their last eight meetings but didn't bring sufficient confidence to Center Court today, said: "It was one of the best matches I've ever seen from her. Everything was working for her; I tried to come to the net and just nothing happened."
Graf, 23, who counts the grass as her ally against Sabatini's topspin, never faced a break point this dank afternoon, but converted 3 of the 11 break points she held against her rival.
"I'm going for my shots, going for my forehands, and I'm feeling pretty good," said Graf, a three-time champion who will be appearing in her fifth Wimbledon final.
As for the proper method for dealing with Seles's grunt, Graf was circumspect: "I don't know if I'll complain," she said.
Last edited by Ms. Anthropic; Dec 13th, 2012 at 07:25 PM.