It was one bizarre production on the heels of another as two instances of unintentional self-destruction were played out in the women's semifinals at the French Open on Thursday afternoon. "If I ever felt before the match that I was going to play this badly, I'd never go out there," said Steffi Graf, who, along with Gabriela Sabatini, came out on the embarrassing end of two unanticipated mismatches.
First, defending champion Monica Seles advanced to her second consecutive final here by administering a 6-4, 6-1 thrashing to Sabatini.
Then, 1989 champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario wreaked even greater havoc on the game and composure of Graf, a two-time champion here, eliminating her 6-0, 6-2. It was the worst defeat of Graf's professional career, and one for which she had no explanation other than an untimely absence of rapport with her tennis racquet.
Seles and Sanchez will meet Saturday in the final.
They have met four times previously, with Seles holding a 4-0 edge. The most recent Seles victory came on clay in straight sets in the semifinals at Hamburg, Germany, this spring.
In the men's semifinals Friday, Andre Agassi faces Boris Becker and Dade City's Jim Courier plays Michael Stich.
If Agassi and Courier win, they will produce the first all-American final since 1954; if Becker and Stich prevail they will produce the first all-German final ever.
Graf not only appeared disengaged during the match, but behaved similarly after it: She seemed more bewildered and bemused than distressed by a match in which she committed 51 errors and managed to hold her serve only twice.
"I couldn't get a ball inside the court," said Graf, whose only previous loss to the 19-year-old Spaniard in 11 meetings came on this same court in the 1989 final.
"I lost a few games and my confidence went down; everything I did didn't work, and I'd never had that happen before. I tried to keep the ball in play, it didn't work. I tried to hit the ball, it didn't work."
Graf's absolute disassociation from her surroundings was nowhere more evident than the moment late in the second set where, winding up for an overhead smash at netside with Sanchez far out of position, Graf slammed the ball into the alley.
The loss prevented the 21-year-old German, who had not lost a Grand Slam set by 6-0 since 1983, from immediately recapturing the No. 1 position held by Seles and also extended her streak without a victory in Grand Slam events to five.
But by a quirk of the ratings computer, should Sanchez defeat Seles in the final, Graf will slip back into the top spot of the Women's Tennis Association rankings.
"It's strange to be No. 1; it's different to be No. 1," said Seles, "and if I keep winning my matches I'll stay No. 1, but being No. 1 is not a great excitement like when you win a Grand Slam. I want both, but I don't want all that pressure."
The sour weather caused two interruptions of the match, and after the second rain delay, which occurred with the players caught in a dead heat at 4-4 of the first set, Sabatini appeared to forget to bring her tennis game back onto center court and lost seven quick games in succession.
Sanchez, who had promised an uninhibited game plan against Graf and delivered it, packed her shots with topspin and aimed for the sidelines right from the first point of the match.
As invisible as Sabatini was in the second set of her match, Graf was even less of a factor in the opening set of hers, and a 43-minute rain delay did not refresh her confidence.
involved in controversy
PARIS _ Steffi Graf's problems weren't confined to the worst defeat of her pro career.
As she fell to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 6-0, 6-2 in a French Open semifinal, her father became entangled in yet another controversy, scuffling with an American tennis fan during Thursday's match.
The altercation involved Peter Graf and Jim Levee, a tennis fan from Texas who in the past had showered money and gifts on Steffi.
David Mercer, a British Broadcasting Corp. reporter, saw the incident from a press box. He said Peter Graf walked past Levee's seat late in the first set and appeared to hit the Texan with his forearm.
Steffi, as soon as she left the court, was asked about the incident.
"I asked my mother about it. My father was saying (to Levee) "Well done, today' and tapped him on the shoulder. I think he slapped him back on the back," Steffi said.
The incident happened in the players' box, where relatives and friends are invited with special passes.
Levee reportedly said after the match, "He hit me in the face. I'm going to press charges."
Peter Graf said: "I went up the stairs to meet somebody. When I passed Levee, I tapped him on the shoulder and said "Well done for Monica.' When I went past, I felt a fist in my back."
Levee is known on the women's tennis circuit and said he has given Steffi Graf $200,000 and two Porsches.
Recently, as Monica Seles took over the No. 1 ranking from Graf, his attention has turned more to the young Yugoslav.