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Tennis: Wimbledon '92 / Grunt and Graf in way of Seles dream: The determination of Monica Seles came over loud and clear as she beat Martina Navratilova yesterday
JOHN ROBERTS, Tennis Correspondent
Friday 03 July 1992
HAVING joined the Navratilova Abatement Society, Monica Seles will now attempt to complete the third leg of the Grand Slam tomorrow by tackling two difficult opponents in the final. One is Steffi Graf, the defending champion, the other is her habit of grunting.
Stifling the world No 1's 'uh-uhhng' became the cause of the championships from the moment journalists arrived on Court One with their gruntometers for her opening match against the Australian Jenny Byrne.
The situation grew more serious in the quarter-finals, when Seles was advised to curb her noises by the umpire, David Crymble, following a complaint by her French opponent, Nathalie Tauziat. Yesterday, in the semi-finals, she received two further cautions on the way to defeating Martina Navratilova, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, after the nine-times champion indicated to the umpire, Fran McDowell, that the grunting prevented her from hearing the ball.
If an umpire decided to give Seles a public warning, any subsequent misdemeanours would be punishable by penalty points until the official felt the distractions were deliberate. The referee would then be summoned, and the player could be disqualified under the rule regarding 'hindrance'.
'Her argument,' Navratilova said, 'is she is not doing it on purpose. But she can stop it, you know. She can stop it on purpose.'
Few would deny that the sound of Seles is one of the least aesthetic features of the sport. Though far removed from John McEnroe's obscenities, Seles's constant stream of exclamations, a cross between 'Je t'aime' and Tarzan, is offensive to the ears of spectators and opponents alike.
She accepts this, and has promised to do something about it, though it may take a little time to adjust: she has been grunting since her first appearance on the international scene as a 10-year- old in a Sport Goofy tournament in Orlando.
Is it fair to put so much additional pressure on her, here and now, as she approaches her first final in the world's most prestigious championships, the one which, because of its unique grass courts, may be the most difficult of the four majors for her to win? Smoking is offensive to many people, but would it be right to deny an expectant father a cigarette?
'There were two or three times (against Navratilova) when I said, 'Monica, don't grunt, don't grunt',' Seles said. 'In some parts of the match I was successful, and in some parts I was not. Twice the umpire said, 'Miss Seles, would you keep it down?' I tried, but I guess when it came really close I probably was grunting again, without realising I was doing it.'
Being the determined character she is - as demonstrated when defeating Graf, 10-8, in the deciding set of the French Open final last month - Seles is unlikely to allow the issue to cloud her thoughts, though even the slightest lapse of concentration can be costly in a tight match.
The match against the 35-year- old Navratilova was closer and more imaginative than many people considered it would be, and Wimbledon's most prolific champion was the first to acknowledge that Seles had advanced to the final on merit: 'Grunting or not, she is a great player and certainly deserved to win today. I think she would have beaten me even without the grunt.'
Granmartina, as my Australian friend Alan Trengrove described her, enriched her 20th visit to the All England Club with a performance only marginally short of producing an upset. She failed chiefly as a consequence of approaches as cramped as the French roads to the channel ports.
Playing Seles, who is half her age, on a grass court for the first time, Navratilova was immediately put under pressure by an opponent who gleefully passed her - left, right and down the lines - at every opportunity, and was broken in the opening game.
She then misdirected two backhand volleys in failing to convert opportunities on Seles's serve in the fourth game, losing her own serve again in the seventh game after saving four break points. When Seles served out the set in 28 minutes, spectators feared they might be witnesses to a humiliation.
Navratilova attacked in the fourth game of the second set, and Seles saved a break-point with an impressive backhand down the line to conclude a rousing rally. It was at the end of this game that the umpire first called Seles to the chair and requested less noise.
Though Seles saved another set point in the 10th game, passing her opponent as she raced to the net behind a sliced backhand, a confident tie-break (7-3) enabled Navratilova to level the match.
Navratilova was far from pleased to see a ball land inside the court after she had allowed it to pass down the line at 15-30 in the fifth game of the final set. 'That is the one shot I would like back,' she said. 'For whatever reason, I thought the ball was hit harder than it was.' Three break- points followed, each of which Seles saved.
The match climaxed with five consecutive breaks, the first noisily achieved by Seles to lead 4-2. Navratilova waited until she had broken back in the next game before again asking the umpire if she would do something about the ear-bashing. Seles, frowning like a suppressed soprano, was unable to comply for long, and the handshake was cool when the players met at the net.
The crowd rose to applaud Navratilova as she left the Centre Court, wondering, perhaps, if she would be back. She waved, blew a kiss, and promised to return.
Though Graf's 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Gabriela Sabatini was low-key by comparison, the German's tennis was not. She raised the level of her performance and forced the Argentinian on the defensive with a barrage of shots; chiefly on the forehand, it is true, but hit from various angles.
The match bore little resemblance to last year's final, in which Sabatini twice served for the match before losing in three sets. Graf, approaching the form which enabled her to press Seles so hard in Paris, showed no inhibitions when opportunities came to finish points at the net.
Volleying remains a psychological block for Seles, though her ground-strokes are difficult to counter, as Navratilova and Graf know only too well.
The champion, inevitably, was asked if she would complain if Seles grunts too loudly tomorrow. 'I don't know,' she said. But didn't the grunting get loud in Paris? 'It did at the end, it really did. But we'll see . . .'
Results, Order of Play, page 31