Ill wind blows Graf past Maleeva, into Open final Sanchez Vicario falls to 12th-seeded Sukova

September 11, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- After the rains came, the winds blew. They buffeted the National Tennis Center, and bothered Steffi Graf nearly as much as Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere, her opponent in yesterday's U.S. Open women's semifinal.

But not for long.

After Maleeva-Fragniere woke up the crowd by winning the opening set, another storm kicked up, this time inside Graf's head. It didn't bring rain, just rage. It was unleased by the top seed and two-time Open champion and blew Maleeva-Fragniere right off the Stadium Court.

By the time this storm quieted, Graf had advanced to her first Open final in three years and fifth overall with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 victory over the No. 11 seed from Switzerland. Graf, who will be looking for her 12th Grand Slam title and third straight this year, will meet No. 12 seed Helena Sukova of the Czech Republic, a 6-7 (7-9), 7-5, 6-2 upset winner over second-seeded Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain.

For a while yesterday, it seemed as if Graf would fall victim to a combination of swirling winds and emotions. She second-guessed a number of line calls throughout the first set and at one point uttered an obscenity when some in the crowd reacted prematurely to what they thought was the end of a point, causing Graf to miss-hit a forehand into the net.

But after losing a 28-point game in the first set, Graf got angry. Then she got even. And finally, she got back to the level she has played throughout this tournament and for most of the past five months, which have included 34 straight match victory and five consecutive championships.

"I don't know if it was rage, it was frustration," said Graf. "It was really difficult to adjust to the wind. I just couldn't get going. I just had to remind myself of who I am."

When she did, Maleeva-Fragniere had little chance. Playing with a broken left pinky that eventually limited her two-handed backhands, Maleeva-Fragniere was overwhelmed by Graf in the last two sets, winning only 10 points in the final set.

Maleeva-Fragniere, who at only 26 is planning to retire after next year's Australian Open, said the wind, and Graf, began to wear her down. It was a brave performance, considering her injury and the fact that she had never beaten Graf in their 17 previous matches.

"After the first set, she played better and I was still going for my shots, but she was not making any mistakes," said Maleeva-Fragniere. "I couldn't play safe, because she would have been all over me. It was a bit unlucky today, it is a bit windy. Because she's so much stronger than me, it doesn't affect her game much. Sometimes when I was hitting against the wind, I had the feeling I had to hit the ball three times harder than usual and it took a lot out of me."

The wind also was a factor in yesterday's first semifinal, and so was a 41-minute rain delay. But Sukova, after losing a first-set tiebreaker, winning the second set and breaking Sanchez Vicario to open the third set, didn't let the delay deter her. In fact, it might have helped her.

"I was not unhappy with the break," said Sukova. "It's rained so many times here, I might not be able to play if it didn't rain."

Said Sanchez Vicario, a finalist here last year who will team with Sukova in tomorrow's women's doubles final: "I think that she played a really good match. I had my chances. I didn't take it. That is why I lost. She is a dangerous player, and you know, especially today was not my best day."

Considering Sukova's history against Graf, there isn't much to indicate that anything will help her this afternoon. Graf has won 19 of their 20 matches, with her only loss coming at a grass tournament in Brisbane, Australia, in 1983, when Graf was only 13 and just four months into what has become one of the most dominant career in women's tennis.

They haven't played on hard court since Graf eliminated Sukova in a three set final at the 1989 Australian Open, the last of three finals in which they've met. She lost in her only previous Open final, in straight sets to Martina Navratilova seven years ago.

"I really believe I am a better player now and I think I deserve it more," said Sukova, 28. "I think I am ready for it much more than I did in that year."

She had better be.

A storm named Steffi is coming back for more.

FEATURE MATCHES

(Seeds in parentheses)

MEN'S SINGLES

SEMIFINALS

(2) Pete Sampras vs. (14) Alexander Volkov; (15) Cedric Piolone vs. Wally Masur.

WOMEN'S SINGLES

FINAL

(1) Steffi Graf vs. (12) Helena Sukova.

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