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EvertNavratilova
Jul 7th, 2009, 04:45 AM
Friday, January 23, 2009
BACKSPIN TIME CAPSULE: 1993 Australian Open
ATP BACKSPIN by Todd Spiker

"Seles is within range of the Grand Slam which eluded her the last two years. Only Graf and Wimbledon truly stand in her way. And even those two potent forces may not be able to stop her in 1993."


On occasion, you can be both entirely correct AND horrifically wrong... at the same time. Unfortunately, this was one of those times.

It's hard to believe it's been sixteen years since Monica Seles won her third straight Australian Open title in 1993 in what turned out to be her final grand slam appearance before her career and tennis history-altering stabbing in Hamburg in April of that year. But, at the time of the writing of this "Backspin Time Capsule," all things great seemed possible -- inevitable, actually -- for the career of the nineteen year-old then-Yugoslav.

She'd surpassed Steffi Graf to become the top player in the women's game, and had such a lethal stranglehold on the sport (she'd won eight of the last eleven slam titles) that she seemed well on her way to shattering all sorts of long-held records. As Seles had usurped Graf's throne, much as is the case on the men's tour these days with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, everyone was waiting to see what the German's response was going to be. A great, long-standing rivalry seemed to be ready to unfold before our eyes.

Then came Hamburg.

I already covered the possibilities of what might have happened had Seles not been attacked in the original "What If?" back in 2004, and it's still a tantalizing scenario that can't help but be tinged with a touch of sadness and lost opportunity.

Seles finally "officially" closed the book on her Hall of Fame-worthy career last Valentine's Day after having not actually played a tour match in nearly five years while battling to overcome a foot injury. But in 1993, none of that was part of the story. So, here's the great Monica Seles... trapped in amber, the best player in the world:

"It's Deja Vu All Over Again" (January 1993)

Is it just me, or is this just a tad bit familiar? Monica Seles vs. Steffi Graf. Jim Courier vs. Stefan Edberg. Oh, well. Maybe it's just me.

The first grand slam to fall into the college bowl game mindset, the FORD Australian Open, was without Andre Agassi and Martina Navratilova; Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl bowed out in the 1st Round; and the oppressive heat threatened to wilt even the hardiest of competitors. Still, the same thing happened at Flinders Park in Melbourne that had happened in Paris and Flushing Meadows recently. For all the talk of the great tennis being played nowadays on the pro level, it still seems as if the same four players appear on a regular basis in most grand slam finals.

#1-seed Monica Seles' 4-6/6-3/6-2 triumph over #2 Steffi Graf was the third slam final between the two in the last four; while #1 Jim Courier's 6-2/6-1/2-6/7-5 demolition of #2 Stefan Edberg was their fourth slam final meeting in the last six.

At least in Seles' case, the events are THIS CLOSE to becoming monotonous. But, in the process, THE new Great Tennis Rivalry may have been born.

In the mid-1980's, tennis gurus were touting Graf and Gabriela Sabatini as the duo which would inevitably replace Navratilova and Chris Evert's dominating matchups. Navratilova and Evert met in fourteen grand slam finals (with Martina holding a 10-4 advantage) in their eighty-match series (Navratilova won forty-three) which stretched from 1973 to '88. But the Graf-Gaby rivalry never really materialized due to Sabatini's slow development and Graf's early overpowering dominance.

Now, more than four years after the Chrissie-Martina Era ended with Evert's retirement, we have unwittingly stumbled into the Monica-Steffi Era. And, this time, the rivalry may have some legs.

Since 1989, Graf holds a 6-4 advantage in the series, but in the four slam final matchups it's Seles who leads 3-1 (including the scintillating 6-2/3-6/10-8 win in the '92 French Open final). Graf, though, has held onto her mastery over Seles at Wimbledon and has thereby prevented her from matching Graf's '88 sweep of the four grand slam titles. THAT is what rivalries are made of.

Seles and Graf came into this final with the German, 23, looking as good as she has in years, and disconcertingly within striking range of Seles' #1 computer ranking despite the 19-year old transplanted Yugoslav's tight grip on the women's tour over the past year and a half.

Going into the match, Graf said that she felt that it would be a "special" final. Well, it WAS special -- but for Seles.

With her famed heart and power, Seles overcame a 1st set loss to trample Graf for her twenty-first consecutive Aussie win (she's undefeated there for her career), her third straight title (tying Graf's 1988-90 run), her seventh slam win in the past nine, and her eighth slam (with a mark of 8-1 in finals) championship overall.

Dominance? You bet. Boring? Not yet, but it's getting close.

When Graf was steamrolling over everyone in the late '80's, women's tennis was a "bore." A bore, that is, until the rest of the field finally caught up to Graf's level of play. Now, the women's game finds itself in the same position. Seles was the woman who caught and surpassed Graf. And the cycle must now begin again.

Can anyone catch Seles?

Sabatini may have peaked already. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario is getting better but not a threat for #1. Navratilova is only concentrating on half the grand slams. Mary Joe Fernandez lacks one big weapon. Jennifer Capriati is still experiencing growing pains. And the list goes on and on.

In fact, only Graf appears to have a chance to take the #1 ranking away, and that may be wishful thinking when one considers what got Seles to the top to begin with.

Graf, still living in Bruhl, but without her suffocating father always present to make things difficult for her, is having more fun playing tennis now than she has in years. She's in great shape (over the string of injuries and illnesses, including a case of rubella which kept her out of the Australian Open in '92) and playing her best tennis since she was ranked #1. But, still, she hasn't fully regained the confidence that she once had in spades when the rest in the women's field were simply sacrificial lambs for her slaughterhouse forehand.

Guts and steel-like mental confidence -- that's what has separated Seles from the pack. And no one seems to have the guns to compete in those two very important areas (and that's assuming anyone can come close to matching the fireball power of her groundstrokes -- which isn't likely as of now).

The scary thing is that Seles still thinks she can improve. She wants to develop a more all-court game in which she can become more comfortable at the net.

This match was a microcosm of how quickly Seles has risen to the top.

Graf came out firing in the 1st set as Seles committed nineteen unforced errors, and Graf won 6-4. But, as Graf continued to play very well, it was quite obvious that Seles was playing herself into the match slowly but surely in the 2nd set. The errors became less frequent, Graf started uncharacteristically questioning calls (knowing the importance of EVERY point against Seles), Seles' grunt came out of hibernation and the match was turned. Seles won the set 6-3, and she wasn't looking back.

In the 3rd set, Seles' errors had all but vanished along with Graf's chances. There was nothing Graf could do. Only Seles can beat Seles outside Centre Court Wimbledon, and unless she gives an opponent a break (which is extremely rare) no one has much of a chance. With Graf's final over-anxious forehand, Seles won the set 6-2 and the match was over.

Once more, the Seles guts had prevailed. It's becoming all too common these days.

Seles is within range of the Grand Slam which eluded her the last two years. Only Graf and Wimbledon truly stand in her way. And even those two potent forces may not be able to stop her in 1993.

Sam L
Jul 7th, 2009, 10:26 AM
At the time that she was stabbed, Seles held:

- The last 3 Australian Opens
- The last 3 French Opens
- The last 3 Tour Championships
- The last 2 US Opens

Saying that she was to Graf like Nadal to Federer is an understatement. Nadal may have a better head-to-head. But remember when Nadal won the 2009 Australian Open and held 3/4 slams? Everyone was almost ready to claim the King is dead, long live the King.

Well in Monica's case that happened sometime in 1991.

It's more like the Queen is stabbed, let's bring back the dethroned Queen.