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Seles wins French Open

Published Oct. 13, 2005

Monica Seles has it down, this two-handed forehand screamer cross court that leaves players like Arantxa Sanchez Vicario shaking their heads and swatting the ball back into the net, provided they can get a racket on it. That's how the women's final of the French Open ended Saturday, as Seles finally seized her fourth match point with a forehand that Sanchez netted for 6-3, 6-4. It was a game that did the finale proud, a 15-minute beauty that included a 23-shot rally to set up the final match point, a rally Seles settled with a backhand down the line.

It kept Seles as No. 1 in women's tennis and it put her halfway to a Grand Slam, with the Australian Open and French Open behind her and Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to go. But it did not put Seles where she wants to be: at the net, serving and volleying and putting away an overhead or two for variety.

"I would love to be a serve-and-volley player," she said. "For sure it's much more exciting than staying back and rallying."

Exciting or not, Seles has won the first two Grand Slam tournaments of 1991. She's not optimistic about the next two, though, since she's never gotten past the fourth round of the U.S. Open and to win on Wimbledon's grass, "I have to play my best tennis and go to the net more."

Rallies dominated the day, with a few drop shots thrown in by Sanchez, the 1989 French Open champion and fifth-ranked player in the world. "You have to be aggressive," she said.

She was also aggressive in questioning calls and bringing umpire Jean-Philippe Merlet off his chair to render a second opinion. In the fifth game of the second set, Merlet overruled a line judge's call on her backhand, initially called long.

She went on to win that game and go up 4-1 in the second set. The game ended as Seles blew a forehand long off a drop shot to finish a 30-shot rally.

That came on the heels of a service break for Sanchez. Seles said when she went to serve at 0-40 after double faulting en route to the break, she asked herself, "What am I doing? Why did I let her come back?"

Then, down by 4-1, Seles was talking to herself again.

"I was so mad at myself," she said. "I said, "Forget it and start playing.' And I just concentrated on a third set."

It seemed a third set was looming, but then Seles held and broke Sanchez, then held and broke again at love for a 5-4 advantage, as Sanchez suddenly couldn't buy a backhand. Just like that, all Seles had to do was serve out the match, but that proved tough.

Seles faced four break points before winning on her fourth match point in a marathon final game.

"If I win the last game, everything will change," said Sanchez, ranked fifth in the world and 0-5 against Seles, "but finally I couldn't finish it. She hit more lines than me. That was the only thing."

"I always play great tennis at the French Open, and this season was my worst one coming in here," said Seles, who last spring compiled a six-event winning streak. "But I'll never put extra pressure on myself; for me, each match as I'm winning it is the biggest thrill."

The victory gave Seles, who earned $378,500, the first back-to-back championships here since Steffi Graf prevailed in 1987 and 1988.

Seles won her first Australian Open title in January by defeating Jana Novotna in three sets, and although she expressed doubt about her ability to win all four Grand Slam events, she vowed to switch over to a serve-and-volley game as soon as she gets to Wimbledon this year.

"On clay I've played great, but I don't want to stay all my life on the back line," she said. "I've got to cut the cake somewhere, and this is it for me.

"I don't want to remain a back-court player all my life. At Wimbledon and in the tournaments before I'm going to play serve-and-volley. Perhaps I'll play badly and lose some matches but I have to decide to do it, otherwise I won't progress.

"A ground-stroke player can't play Wimbledon; I think I'd have a much bigger chance of winning Wimbledon if I could go in and serve-and-volley. But I think it's probably impossible for me to win the whole Grand Slam this year."

Sanchez said she had never seen Seles come in to volley, even in doubles matches. "Now I want to see that!" she said in surprise when told of Seles' new plans.