Seles' hold on slams is grand 3rd title in row comes in 3 sets AUSTRALIAN OPEN

January 31, 1993|By New York Times News Service

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It has become one of the sporting cliches of the 1990s: Monica Seles with warm-up jacket neatly zipped up, clutching a large silver trophy as a horde of photographers jostle for a clear view.

The scene was replayed yesterday at Flinders Park, just as it has been replayed before at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows.

"I never thought I'd do so well in Grand Slams," said Seles, after beating Steffi Graf, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, to win her third straight Australian Open.

Few have ever done so well so young. Seles, 19, has won eight Grand Slam singles titles, including seven of the past nine. The only leg to escape her is Wimbledon, where she did not play in 1991 and where Graf beat her in straight sets in 1992.

As for the other three Slams, the novelty is long gone. With her two-fisted ground strokes, two-toned grunt and remarkable will, Seles is more than a formidable shot-maker. She is a psychological force.

"It is her desire and her incredible self-confidence," said Graf, when asked why Seles is so difficult to beat.

Yesterday's match was in some respects of higher quality than last year's memorable French Open final, in which Seles beat Graf, 10-8, in the third set.

The standard of play yesterday was consistently high from the start and Graf was considerably less erratic from the baseline than in Paris. As a rule, points were won, rather than lost.

"With Steffi, we both hit the ball so hard and go for our shots," Seles said. "You cannot let your mind go for a minute or you've got a winner whizzing past you."

The outcome hinged on the sixth and seventh games of the final set. Serving at 2-3 and 30-0, Graf hit a lovely serve wide to Seles' backhand and was rewarded with a ferocious crosscourt return that landed smack on the line.

Two points later, Seles hit another bolt off the forehand side to get her first break-point opportunity of the set. Graf saved it by winning a baseline rally, and she soon saved another with an all-too-rare backhand volley into an open court.

But the momentum was visibly shifting, as Seles fearlessly continued chasing balls down in the corners and going for her shots. She finally got the break and a 4-2 lead when Graf nailed a short forehand just long.

"I knew whoever got the break in the third set, it would be quite important," Seles said.

It appeared that Graf might return the favor in the next game, when she hit another all-too-rare backhand volley to get a break point. Seles gave herself a quiet scolding, marched up to the service line and calmly hit an ace up the middle.

"I just said, 'Go for it,' and it went in," Seles said.

No explanation was necessary the rest of the way, as a visibly deflated Graf ceased to pose a serious threat. Trailing, 0-40, on her serve, she saved one match point with a clean forehand winner. But on the next point, she bowed out meekly with a forehand error.

"I am not very happy about how I played, but she definitely played better in the middle of the second set and didn't let up," Graf said.

Graf didn't help her own cause by repeating her French Open mistake and attempting to beat Seles almost exclusively from the baseline.

"I think the next time, I will probably look for a different game plan," Graf said. "I will try a few different things."

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