Linked forever by a moment of madness, Monica Seles and Steffi Graf scored emotionally charged victories in straight sets Friday to renew their unique rivalry in the U.S. Open final.
They share the No. 1 ranking, a past filled with magnificent matches and the memory of an attack on Seles by a fan of Graf. Now they will share the stadium court at the Open for the first time today.
Seles is back where she belonged before that 1993 stabbing in Germany, competing for her ninth Grand Slam championship after a 6-2, 6-2 rout of No. 4 Conchita Martinez in the semifinals.
Graf, winner of the French Open and Wimbledon this year in Seles’ absence, will be going for her 18th Grand Slam title following her 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) victory over Gabriela Sabatini.
Seles, who beat Graf in the 1993 Australian Open final in their last Grand Slam confrontation, entered the stadium all smiles Friday a few minutes after Graf departed with tears of relief on her face.
For Graf, her trip to the final was a triumph of will in the face of extraordinary circumstances. Her father and manager, Peter, is in jail in Germany under tax evasion charges. She has had chronic back pain from a bone spur, and in this match her left foot was bandaged because of an inflamed bone.
“This has been definitely the most demanding time, the most demanding inside of me,” Graf said. “It took a lot out of me the last few weeks, much more than any other stage in my life.”
Graf hugged her mother and coach after the match, then jogged to the middle of the court, looked up at the cloudy sky and shrieked uninhibitedly before sobbing into her towel, wiping her face, and sobbing again.
Seles took her victory over other grim circumstances with characteristic laughter.
“Everything about life is funny,” Seles said, giggling. “If you can’t laugh at life, then why are you living?
“Just to be in the final, gosh! If someone would have told me one or two years ago that I was going to be in the final here, and have a chance to go out and play great tennis tomorrow. … It’s beyond what I dreamt of. To play against Steffi is going to be fun. It’s going to be a great day, either way it goes. Definitely, I am going to be psyched for it.
Seles’ crisp groundstrokes and delicate drop shots turned Martinez into a lumbering loser, chasing balls futilely from side to side and baseline to net. The match lasted exactly 1 hour, the final point coming on Martinez’s double-fault, but the inevitable outcome could be seen long before that.
Graf played superbly against Sabatini, putting aside all her problems, opening with an ace and taking the first set when Sabatini gave her the gift of a double-fault on set-point.
Graf’s money shot, her inside-out forehand crosscourt, was working to near perfection in that set, and she used it over and over for winners.
A trainer looked at Graf’s sore foot after the seventh game of that set and talked to her again on the next changeover, but there was nothing that could be done beyond keeping the bone bandaged.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: At a glance On TV: 8 a.m. KREM Jim Courier (14) vs. Pete Sampras (2), semifinal; Steffi Graf (1) vs. Monica Seles (2), championship; Andre Agassi (1) vs. Boris Becker (4), semifinal.