Originally Posted by alfajeffster
First off, let me start by saying I think your premise for starting this thread is a very thinly disguised attempt at repeating (however softly or eloquently) what has always been a sore spot for many Monica Seles admirers- her lack of movement. "the real source of trouble Graf had with Seles in the early 90s"? Okay, since it is the time of year when the veil is thinnest between the living and the dead, I'll bite (again). Steffi Graf didn't have trouble with Monica Seles on any surface besides red clay or rebound ace, the two slowest surfaces they ever played on- even in the early 90s when Monica was the top player in the world. This came down to movement, and on the slower surfaces, not only were Graf's shots slowed down, and the rallies longer, but the bounces were higher, and the surface afforded Seles more time to get into adequate striking position to be able to control the points- often times right from the return of service. Martina Hings, in direct comparison to Graf, not only had more options on the backhand, but also on the forehand, mid-court balls, and at the net. Her game was more completely rounded than Steffi Graf's game, and she had just as much control, if not more, over her intelligent shot selection in any given rally. Her mental fortitude and stamina was what Graf preyed upon, and while many of their matches were close, Graf could also wear Hingis down through superior fitness on any surface. Hingis' own comments after losing to Graf at the 99 French bear this out "you're always so tough". Monica Seles was usually not able to wear down Hingis because, as many people have noted throughout her career, she never really had a plan B to resort to- she played each match the same way, regardless of the opponent. Hingis could not only wear Monica down, but usually get her moving and out of her strike zone with a tactical arsenal greater in scope than Steffi Graf's.
Alfa, there was nothing thinly vieled about my question. How could there be? I gave you my ulterior motive. And that motive is not to rub salt into any wound. I actually think by reflecting on Hingis' success against Seles we can get a more scientific grasp of the Seles-Graf matchup over the years.
I'll advance that project now by saying that I recently saw a tape of the '93 AO Open Final, part of an attempt on my part to figure out what edge Seles had against Steffi in the matches Seles won. It became quickly apparent that Seles knew what Steffi's hitting patterns were. By '93, they had become quite repetitive, especially when Steffi shyed away from hitting the forehand dtl from the backhand corner. Consequently, Seles didn't need to defend the entire court. She could just camp out in the Ad court.
So, I don't think it is as simple as you make it seem. The surface may not have made that big a difference. Had Graf patterns not been as predictable as they were in that '93 AO Final, she would have won the third set.
Given the emphasis I am placing on shot patterns, I hope you see the logic now of asking how it is that Hingis overcame Seles' power. You've given me quite a good answer. Hingis did so by varying her patterns. By design, her game was more capable of doing that because she understood the strategic advantage of hitting the ball short, as well as deep, slow as well as hard, crosscourt as well as dtl without establishing any transparent pattern.
In that '93 AO final, Graf displays none of that understanding. This would not always remain the case. By 1996, I would argue that she had a better understanding. Review your tape of the '96 US Open Final. The short slice backhand made a big difference. Graf was learning.
I think Graf next played Seles at the '98 Tour Championships. For that first set, Steffi was back to her old, predictable ways. Then, it must have dawned on her what she was doing wrong. The change was subtle, but it nevertheless worked well. Even Virginia Wade who was working the match for MSG sports noted the difference. The slice was still going crosscourt most of the time, but Seles just couldn't favor that side from the second to the third sets because Steffi began hitting her forehand dtl from the backhand corner. Another subtle, but significant change is that Steffi began shortening the length of her slice backhand crosscourt, angling it wider, giving it some really wicked spin, but placing it shorter.
I think by the time Steffi met Seles in the semis of the '99 FO Seles was searching for a new strategy that would work against Graf. She could count on Steffi hitting her slice backhand crosscourt most of the time, but she could no longer count on Steffi's forehand from the backhand corner going to the same place, the AD court. If that turned out to be the case, then Seles was going to be forced to play Steffi straight, a difficult proposition for Seles given her lack of speed. On top of everything else, of course, Steffi did something different with her forehand that day. On the inside-out forehand from the backhand corner, she took some pace off the ball in order to place the ball shorter in the court and at a wider angle. How very Hingis-like of her, don't you think?
So, here is my new theory: When Graf settled into a pattern of hitting her slice backhand and inside-outside forehand (deep, but not really wide) to the AD Court, Seles knew how to beat Graf as she did in the '93 AO. When Graf moved her forehand from the backhand corner around the court, as she did some in her early career and much more in '96, '98, and '99, Graf had the edge. That edge became more definitive when Steffi began hitting a short slice backhand and a dropshot off of her slice backhand takeback after a series of crosscourt backhands. In a way, the more she varied her patterns like Hingis the more of an edge she gained on Seles.
As to edge that Steffi had on Hingis, I don't agree with you that it was just a question of mental fortitude and stamina. Some of Hingis' cuter shots just didn't work against Graf because she moved so well to the ball and she was a magnificent low ball hitter. Graf could also do what Venus and Davenport did to overcome Hingis. When Graf, Venus, Davenport hit the ball into the open court with power and precision, Hingis' options diminished exponentially. In order to do that, of course, they had to play ping pong with Hingis until they got the right ball.