They met at the net, two winners, though Steffi Graf gets to keep her fourth U.S. Open title. They hugged. Monica Seles kissed Graf’s left cheek, already wet with tears. They hugged again.
Graf would break down completely later, fleeing the postmatch press conference in sobs. A question about her jailed father in Germany yanked reality back into her life sooner than she deserved.
Never has a loser been so joyful and a winner been so miserable.
“Oh, boy, so many emotions,” bubbled Seles, speaking only for herself.
A word for how you feel, please, Monica.
“Ecstatical,” she said.
Graf swore she, too, was happy. She did leap up and down after match point, a forehand into the net by Seles. Graf rushed to find someone to hug, her coach, her mother. She can communicate with her father only through lawyers.
Peter Graf has been arrested for not paying taxes on Steffi Graf’s considerable wealth. This is the first of her 18 Grand Slam titles he has missed.
“I haven’t talked to his lawyers or my lawyers for the last couple of weeks,” Graf said, “so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
This is not the usual response to not the usual question after so glorious a day as the one Graf had just survived. But the entire Graf-Seles situation is unusual. After answering, Graf seemed to suddenly realize that the easiest part of her life had been out there on the court, confirming that for the 2 years Seles had been gone from tennis, Graf’s six Grand Slam titles and 22 tournament victories were vindicated. She burst into tears, covered her face and fled the room.
Tennis has given Graf and Seles their greatest joy and also their greatest despair. It took Seles 2-1/2 years to resolve her pain. How long it will take Graf remains to be seen.
“The past is the past,” Seles said, “you just have to move on.”
Tennis now knows what it has missed, a fierce and honorable conflict that required only our applause, not our interference.
Graf did permit one bit of self-congratulations. “I have won every Grand Slam four times now?” she asked. “Pretty amazing.”
This one was even more so. In addition to her reallife confusion, Graf has physical difficulties as well, a chronically bad back that could, at any time, force her out of tennis. And the night before her final with Seles, Graf spent at a hospital, getting her left foot examined.
“This is the biggest win I’ve ever achieved,” Graf said. “Nothing else is close to this one. I had a lot of obstacles to climb over.”
Graf’s body is declining and her joy in the game is diminishing just as Seles’ career is rejuvenated.
Their reunion was splendid, a three-set match that could have gone to Seles as easily as Graf. In fact, Seles thought it had when she served what she believed was a first-set, tie-break ace.
“It was so in, clearly in,” Seles said. “It was pretty much bugging me too long.”
It would have had to have been into the third set, because Seles won the second at love, the first time Graf has lost a love set in a Grand Slam match.
This is as it could have been and should have been. And now that it is again, not coincidentally, the women’s tour has found a sponsor, a Canadian software company.
“The tour is the tour with or without Monica,” said Seles, “but I hope I’ve brought some excitement back again.
“If Steffi and I are going to keep playing each other in all these matches, it will be as exciting. Maybe it already is.”
However long it lasts.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Bernie Lincicome Chicago Tribune
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