MELBOURNE, Jan 25 – Steffi Graf and Monica Seles on Monday revived one of the great rivalries of modern tennis when the former champions set up a quarter-final meeting at the Australian Open.
Graf and Seles — the winners of eight Australian Open titles between them — breezed through their fourth round matches on a hot Melbourne Park centre court.
Tenth-seeded Graf, champion in Melbourne from 1988-90 and again in 1994, overpowered unseeded Austrian Barbara Schett 6-1 6-1 in a 47-minute fourth-round romp.
Seles followed her old foe onto court and spent exactly the same amount of time there, working only slightly harder to oust 14th seed Sandrine Testud of France 6-0 6-3.
Graf and Seles dominated women’s tennis through the late 1980s and early 1990s but have not met in a grand slam tournament since the German beat Seles in straight sets in the 1996 U.S. Open final.
“You know you’re going to have to raise your level of game but I try, try to be up for each match,” Seles said of her rematch with Graf on Wednesday. Emotional return from injury Graf also won an emotional U.S. Open final in 1995, which marked Seles’s return to big-time tennis from a 27-month absence after she was stabbed by a crazed Graf fan during a change of ends at the Hamburg Open.
Tennis fans will never know how many matches the pair might have played were it not for the stabbing, which also marked a slow spiral down in the careers of both stars.
The last time they met in Melbourne was in the 1993 Open final, Seles winning in three sets to cap three successive Australian titles. She added another Australian title in 1996 to make it four titles in four appearances.
Sixth-seeded Seles’s defeat of Testud took her unbeaten run in Melbourne to 32 matches.
Graf holds a 9-4 advantage over Seles in overall matches between the pair, although the grandes dames of tennis are locked at three apiece in their six grand slam finals against each other stretching back to Seles’s 1990 French Open triumph.
“We’ve had a lot of close matches but we haven’t played too often in the last few years,” Graf said of Seles. Graf has climbed back up the world rankings to number eight after an injury-prone 1997 and 1998. Midway through 1998 she dropped off the rankings completely for the first time since she made her professional debut in January 1983.
Seles is also slowly building her way back up the rankings after skipping Melbourne in 1997 with a broken finger and the death of her beloved father Karolj in 1998 after a long illness.
“I really should be able to win every match at this level,” Seles said, adding she had not thought of the prospect of meeting Graf until she had beaten Testud.
“My dad always told me not to be too confident, not to look too far forward. “I’m just looking forward to to playing her. Obviously it’s going to be a very difficult match and, as always, it’s such a great challenge,” she said. Graf, 29, showed glimpses of her formidable old self against unseeded baseliner Schett, who came into the tournament with good recent form and upset fourth seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the second round. Graf completely demoralised the Austrian, who surrendered her serve five times and offered up a welter of unforced errors.
“I think the last two matches, I didn’t play up to my potential and today…I just went out there and I just had a better attitude,” said Graf, who did not play in Melbourne or at the French Open last year.
Seles, too, was back to her old self as she lost only five points on the way to clinching the first set against Testud in 17 minutes.
The world number four Seles looked a little less formidable in the second but the Frenchwoman never posed a serious threat.