Graf steps out of Seles' shadow Defending champ silences top seed's Grand Slam bid

July 05, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England -- Steffi Graf began this year's Wimbledon as both defending champion and afterthought, confident in her chances yet obscured by the spotlight following Monica Seles and her chase for the Grand Slam.

Graf is no longer an afterthought.

And Seles is no longer chasing the Grand Slam.

In a ladies' championship match that took more than five hours to complete because of rain, but less than an hour to play, Graf won her fourth Wimbledon title with a thoroughly convincing, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Seles on sodden Centre Court at the All England Club.

Despite three delays, the 23-year-old German never lost her concentration and won the 11th Grand Slam title of her career. The loss prevented Seles, 18, from having a chance to join Graf and Margaret Court as the only women to win the Grand Slam.

"I really don't look at it as revenge," said Graf, who lost a now classic three-set marathon to Seles in this year's French Open final, with the final set going to 10-8. "It feels great to win the final in that way. It's definitely the best match I've played in a long time."

Asked what the difference was between this match and the one in Paris, Graf said, "I think it had a lot to do with me believing in myself. I just went out there knowing I had all the shots for it. It felt great walking out there. The surface suits me better than her. There is no doubt about that."

There were few doubts as to who was better yesterday. It was the most one-sided Wimbledon final since Martina Navratilova defeated Andrea Jaeger, 6-0, 6-3, in 1983. It was also the most one-sided victory for Graf in a Grand Slam final since she defeated Natalia Zvereva in two love sets at the 1988 French Open. Yesterday's victory was worth $410,000 to Graf.

Playing under threatening skies throughout, and with the temperature dipping to around 60 degrees by the end, second-seeded Graf tore through top-seeded Seles in the first set, taking advantage of her opponent's shaky first serve and overall jittery appearance.

"I think she really didn't have any kind of game plan," said Graf, who rarely will criticize another player. "She was just trying to hit the ball, and I stood up to it. She wasn't serving very well."

But the most noticeable thing missing from Seles' game was her grunts. As much as her double-fisted blasts from both sides of the court have become a trademark, so had the grunts. They had reached a screechy crescendo at the French Open and had become a source of controversy in her past few matches.

Yesterday, though, Seles was mostly silent. Except for a few mild bellows after the final rain delay -- she was down 1-4, 15-30 in the second set at the time -- Seles let her racket make most of the noise. Her shots seemed to lack their typical explosiveness, too.

Seles refused to blame her loss, her first in a Grand Slam final after six straight victories, on the turmoil that surrounded her the past two weeks or the rain that caused delays of 45 minutes, 1:45 and 1:47.

"The first [delay] was maybe the key one at 6-2, 1-0," said Seles, who lost in 58 minutes. "I had so many games 30-0 and lost my serve. After the second rain delay, I was down 4-1, I didn't feel I would get back into the match."

As for not grunting, Seles said, "I didn't really want to think about it, but I said to myself, Hopefully I can start somewhere.' I didn't win all those matches because of grunting,and I didn't lose to Steffi because of it."

Said Graf, "There was so much talk about all that grunting. Maybe it got to her a little bit. Maybe it bothered her. I could see it."

The loss stopped Seles' streak of Grand Slam championships, which included this year's Australian and French Opens, at five. It was also her first loss in a Grand Slam match after 41 victories.

Though she cried a little at the post-match ceremony, Seles seemed fairly composed afterward. When asked if she was disappointed at not having an opportunity to pursue the Grand Slam, Seles was also a tad fatalistic.

"I really personally never thought I was going to win the Grand Slam," she said.

"After I won the French, I thought even if I won here, it wasn't going to be easy. It would have been a lot of trouble to win the Open, playing 14 days and seven matches."

In victory, Graf proved that she is a more complete player than when she was top-ranked, even more dynamic perhaps than when she won all four Grand Slam events in 1988. With the help of new coach Heinz Gunthardt, a former men's tour player, Graf is in the process of developing an aggressive game.

Though she still breaks most fundamentals by running around her forehand and often hitting it wrong-footed, Graf is taking more chances, coming to the net and putting pressure on her opponent.

"I didn't expect to finish it like this," said Graf, who after beating Sabatini 8-6 in the third set last year lost nine games in her last two matches. "I really didn't, but I knew that I had it in me."

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