Determined Seles takes Paris again Sanchez defeated, 6-3, 6-4, in final

June 09, 1991|By Robin Finn | Robin Finn,New York Times News Service

PARIS -- It was a final-round match between teen-age French Open champions, the defending champion Monica Seles and the 1989 winner, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

Each is prone to figuring out footwork from the baseline and communicating effort and enthusiasm with a barrage of gutturals, grunts and groans.

The vocal track from this lively confrontation yesterday rang out as loudly as its catapulted ground strokes on a dim, gray afternoon more reminiscent of March on the moors than springtime in Paris.

But the defending champion had more at stake, and it showed. Seles recovered from a 1-4 second-set deficit, saved four set points and converted her fourth match point to retain the privilege of being the French Open champion for another year.

For Seles, the match meant the difference between retaining and surrendering not only her French Open title but also her No. 1 ranking. When it was over, the 17-year-old Yugoslav had cleared both hurdles, defeating her 19-year-old opponent, 6-3, 6-4.

"I still can't believe it really did happen," said Seles, who hugged her trophy with the same affection she bestows on the favorite members of her stuffed-animal collection.

"I never thought it would happen at the start of the tournament," she said, referring to the two final-round losses in Hamburg and Rome -- the latter a 6-3, 6-2 blowout delivered by Gabriela Sabatini -- that served as her tuneup for this event.

"I always play great tennis at the French Open, and this season was my worst one coming in here," said Seles, who last spring won six straight events. "But I'll never put extra pressure on myself; for me, each match as I'm winning it is the biggest thrill."

The victory gave Seles, who earned $378,500, the first back-to-back championships here since Steffi Graf prevailed in 1987-88. It also left her halfway along the path to becoming the first woman to win the Grand Slam since Graf in 1988.

Seles won her first Australian Open title in January by defeating Jana Novotna in three sets. Although she expressed doubt about her ability to win all four slam events, she vowed to switch over to a serve-and-volley game as soon as she gets to Wimbledon this year.

"On clay I've played great, but I don't want to stay all my life on the back line," she said. "I've got to cut the cake somewhere and this is it for me.

"A ground-stroke player can't play Wimbledon; I think I'd have a much bigger chance of winning Wimbledon if I could go in and serve-and-volley. But I think it's probably impossible for me to win the whole Grand Slam this year."

But Seles, never at a loss for words and seldom shy about expressing her opinions, also made it clear that her decision to expand her surface repertory did not come from any paranoia about protecting her ranking.

"You don't have to be a serve-and-volleyer to be a great player, to be No. 1," she said. "I could say, why doesn't Stefan Edberg or Boris Becker win the French Open?"

Seles, 19-1 at this event and 40-4 in Grand Slam matches, did not have an auspicious beginning. She fell behind, 2-0, and enticed into mistakes by Sanchez's aggressive shot-making.

But her nervousness was short-lived. She broke back, assumed a 3-2 lead, then broke Sanchez again with a vicious forehand service return that traced the sideline to put her ahead, 5-3, with the opportunity to serve out the set.

Seles faltered again in the second set. She dropped her serve to fall behind, 3-1, then was outhustled by Sanchez in the next game, in which drop shots played a pivotal part.

But Seles crisscrossed the court with two-handed ground strokes to break back to 3-4. She held serve for 4-4, then took a 5-4 lead when Sanchez fired off four consecutive duds in the ninth game.

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