Women’s tennis’s best long-term rivalry will add another chapter on Thursday when legends Monica Seles and Steffi Graf hook it up in the semifinals of Roland Garros. The meeting was secured when Seles pounded Conchita Martinez 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals late Tuesday.
As she had done in the 15 prior times she had whacked Martinez, Seles dictated play most of the match. Playing on a slow Suzanne Lenglen court, Martinez was unable to run No. 3 Seles ragged, as the Yugoslav-American ran well and had little trouble with Martinez’s variety of spins. Frustrated with Seles’ steady play, Martinez committed 35 unforced errors to only 21 for her opponent.
Seles will now face Graf, who she is 5-9 against but whom she beat the last time the two matched up, in the ’99 Australian quarters. Graf beat Lindsay Davenport in the other quarter on Thursday. Graf, who has beaten Seles three out of the four times they have played since Seles returned to the tour after taking two-and-a-half years off to recover form her stabbing, said she needs to bring a different attitude to the court than the one she carried Down Under.
“I played a good match there until a certain point, then it was the worst,” Graf said. “I don’t know what happened. , but I could not put a ball in the court anymore. I completely , how do you say, fluked or flanked, something like that. Obviously, I need to get myself together and go for my shots, concentrate on serving and playing the game. …I was extremely nervous [in Australia]. I rarely had anything like that before. I didn’t have an explanation for it….I don’t feel like I want to get nervous [on Thursday].”
Seles and Graf have never been friends and have had a cool relationship, but the two recently talked after Australia and could be patching things up. Graf and Seles and have met three times at Roland Garros, the last in what is widely considered to be one of the greatest women’s matches ever: the ’92 final, which Seles won 10-8 in the third set. “I’ve talked to Steffi once about it,” Seles said. “I think both of us, when we decided to come back, we came back because of the matches you play in the semis and finals when you have to be 100 percent physically, mentally and game-wise. The crowd is in it, you’re playing on center court. Those are the times you really love to play.”
Seles, who reached the final here last year, said she has to be at the top of her game on Thursday. “Both of us are really strong mentally and want to win and we both play at a really high level,” Seles said. “So whoever is making the shots will come out the winner.”