French win stirs Sanchez Defeat of Seles brings bittersweet feelings

June 07, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PARIS -- Arantxa Sanchez Vicario felt all the emotions of the moment, happy and sad. As Monica Seles stood, biting her lip and listening, Sanchez, her voice trembling, said, "I'm so sorry that I beat you. I have so much respect for you, and all the players feel so sorry that your father passed away."

For 1 hour, 53 minutes on a sodden afternoon at Stade Roland Garros, Sanchez had played through the emotions of the crowd on Court Central, where most of the fans were chanting "Mon-ee-ca! Mon-ee-ca!" and hoping that Sanchez would be plowed under by the power of Seles' ground strokes.

But Sanchez saved her sympathy yesterday for later. She didn't give an inch, didn't slow down a step, didn't quit on a single ball or show a single nerve. A 26-year-old Spaniard who had won three Grand Slam titles but hadn't been past the quarterfinals of one in almost two years, she beat Seles for only the third time in 17 meetings, 7-6 (7-5), 0-6, 6-2. It was Sanchez' third French Open title. She won her first nine years ago.

After the last point, when Seles had crashed an easy backhand volley two feet long, an error of frustration because of the way Sanchez had kept returning shots that Seles was sure were winners, Sanchez hugged Seles hard, whispered consoling words, and then hugged Seles again.

Seles' father, Karolj, died on May 14, and Sanchez, who considers Seles her best tennis friend, said that she had decided that "at least if I lose, I lose with somebody who deserved also to win with all she's going through."

Sanchez has had a discouraging year herself. She has struggled with leg and wrist injuries, and had won only one tournament in more than 20 months. Sanchez heard and read that she was finished, and she also quietly seethed when she listened to a passel of teen-agers proclaim themselves the best.

Sanchez seemed to take particular pride when she came back from a 6-4, 5-2 deficit against 16-year-old Serena Williams in the fourth round, and she said yesterday of the younger players that "to come here and to win, I have to win seven tough matches, and maybe now they will respect what I did. We'll see."

There was respect from Seles, who was the player who forced all the action and who won 26 of 32 points in the second set. A heavy rain that postponed the start of the match by about half an hour was not a good thing for Seles. It slowed down the court and made it easier for Sanchez, the retriever, to reach more balls, and made it harder for Seles, the attacker, to hit dead-out winners.

Still, Seles, who hadn't been in a Grand Slam final since the 1996 U.S. Open and who has spent five years juggling tennis with the repercussions of the stabbing she suffered in 1993 and the illness of her father, seemed to take control of the first set when she broke Sanchez in the eighth game to take a 5-3 lead and have a chance to serve for the set.

But in the next game Seles made three unforced errors, including an overhead that she pounded into the net instead of over the net, to give Sanchez the break back. The Spaniard ended up winning the tiebreaker when Seles put a routine forehand into the net.

Seles seemed to have run through her quota of silly strokes as she rolled through the second set. But in the first game of the third set, Seles wasted two break points in a game that might have broken Sanchez's will as well as her serve. Sanchez saved a break point in the third game and two more in the fifth game.

Even as the crowd chanted more and more for Seles, Sanchez got stronger and stronger. Because Sanchez is so relentless in retrieving shots, Seles said, "it puts a lot of pressure against a person who is a hitter, has a hitting style of game like myself, to sometimes go for too much. And you start making errors."

Still Seles leaves Roland Garros with a sense of accomplishment. She has found in herself a new resolve. She has a new coach, Gavin Hopper, who has helped her believe that she can find a bigger serve and a fitter body, and reclaim the will that had made her a dominating player for three years early in the decade.

"It's been really surprising where I've gotten this past two weeks," said Seles, who only decided for sure to play here four days before the tournament began.

Men's final

What: French Open men's singles final

Who: Alex Corretja (No. 14 seed), Spain, vs. Carlos Moya (12), Spain

Where: Roland Garros Stadium, Paris

When: 9 a.m. today

TV: Chs. 11, 4

1998 records: Corretja, 27-8; Moya, 28-12

Career head-to-head: Corretja has won two of three over Moya.

1998 head-to-head: Moya defeated Corretja, 6-3, 6-2, in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Open in April.

Box score

B6 Match statistics of the women's French Open final:

..... ..... Sanchez Vicario ..... Seles

Aces ..... ..... ..... 0 ..... ..... ....... 1

Double faults .. ..... 2 ..... ..... ....... 0

Pct. first serve ..... 71 .... ..... ....... 72

Unforced errors ...... 29 .... ..... ....... 48

Break points ......... 8 ..... ..... ....... 14

Breaks of serve ...... 4 ..... ..... ....... 5

Total points won ..... 82 .... ..... ....... 92

Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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