Women's final is 1 vs. 2

September 10, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Arantxa Sanchez Vicario hadn't even walked onto Stadium Court for her semifinal match yesterday, but No. 1 seed Steffi Graf had no doubt whom she would be seeing today in the U.S. Open women's championship.

"Arantxa is the most consistent player, and I am sure I will be playing her," said Graf, the defending champion. "I am expecting her."

While the U.S. Open has gone anything but according to plan in the men's draw, the women have proceeded unwaveringly to this confrontation between Graf, the No. 1 seed, and Sanchez Vicario, who is No. 2.

And if anyone is excited about this, it is Graf, who yesterday was finally challenged, but never close to being eliminated.

"Playing Jana was much more fun than my other matches," said Graf, who was forced to stay on court for 1 hour, 49 minutes, before Jana Novotna had enough and lost, 6-3, 7-5. "This was much more exciting. We had some incredible rallies, some great points and some good passing shots -- some really fun points."

In Sanchez Vicario, who beat Gabriela Sabatini, 6-1, 7-6 (8-6), to make the final, Graf meets a woman who believes she has an equal chance at this title.

The 5-foot-6 dynamo from Barcelona, Spain, has been working with specialists in Florida on her mental and physical conditioning and has beaten Graf in two of three meetings since March.

"We actually split our last two meetings," said Graf. "I believe that what happens here really depends on me. It really depends on how well I am going to play. I think the serve is going to be again a key factor, as well as being aggressive at times. And this court suits me better."

Certainly it suited her yesterday.

While she and Novotna combined for some long and impressive points, the thing the skeptics will take from it is its uncanny resemblance to Novotna's fold at Wimbledon in 1993.

There, she was up 4-1 on Graf and serving to go up 5-1 in the third set, when she choked and wound up losing the set and the match, 6-4.

Here, after playing well but losing the first set, she had burst to another 4-1 advantage and had worked her way to 15-40 on Graf's serve, at 5-2, only to have Graf lift her game to fight off those two break points and even a third one to hold.

After that, Novotna lost her serve to put the set back on serve and at 5-5 lost her nerve, double-faulting on three points, including game point to put Graf in position at 6-5 to serve out the match.

"We played aggressive, exciting tennis," said Novotna. "This was not like Wimbledon. I did not think of Wimbledon. Absolutely not. We have played each other too many times since, to think to that one match.

"The difference today was that she played better on key points. I went for it, but she made great passing shots.

"So many times I thought I had a winning shot and suddenly, she was right there for her own winner."

As for those double faults, she admitted only that she should have gone for a safer serve.

In the second semifinal, Sanchez Vicario benefited from a slow start by Sabatini, who had nine double faults, including two in the second-set tiebreaker, that gave Sanchez a 4-1 lead.

Sabatini came back to earn a set point at 6-5, but Sanchez Vicario came up with a big backhand winner down the line and won the next two points to win the match.

Not even a between-the-legs attempt on Sabatini's last shot could ward off the outcome.

"I didn't win, but I leave feeling good," said Sabatini. "I have played better tennis here than I have played in a long, long time. So I feel good."

Sabatini expects today's title match to be enjoyable.

"Arantxa is playing well, and she is a big fighter who will give it her best until the last point," said Sabatini. "I think it will be good test for Steffi."

And too tight for her to call.

Sanchez Vicario, who won the French Open, says she has nothing to lose today.

"I am No. 2 fighting against No. 1," she said. "I know what kind of match I'm going to have to play and what I'm up against. But I have confidence. I am having a great year. There is no pressure on me, and I'm not going to put any pressure on me. I'm just going to try to play my best and see what happens."

MEN

Doubles, championship Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis, Netherlands (3), def. Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, Australia (4), 6-3, 7-6 (7-1).

WOMEN

Singles, semifinals Steffi Graf (1), Germany, def. Jana Novotna (7), Czech Republic, 7-5. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (2), Spain, def. Gabriela Sabatini (8), Argentina, 6-1, 7-6 (8-6).

Doubles, semifinal Katerina Maleeva, Bulgaria, and Robin White, Del Mar, Calif., def. Gigi Fernandez, Aspen, Colo., and Natalia Zvereva, Belarus, 7-6 (7-2), 1-6, 6-3.

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