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Six-cess for Steffi
Graf edges Hingis, captures sixth and 'last' French title
Posted: Monday August 16, 1999 02:58 AM
PARIS (CNN/SI) -- Steffi Graf won the hearts of the Roland Garros faithful, then won her sixth French Open singles title on Saturday, defeating a tearful Martina Hingis, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Graf picked up her first Grand Slam singles title in almost three years, bringing her career total to 22, two short of the all-time leader, Margaret Court.
"This is the biggest win I've ever had," Graf said. "This is by far the most unexpected."
Plagued by a string of injuries in recent years, Graf -- who will be 30 in two weeks -- said she would not play again in the event that she first won 12 years ago.
"This was my last French Open," Graf said, making a surprise announcement.
She would not say if this was her last year on the tour. "I'm taking it tournament by tournament, match by match," she said.
Graf played 16 of the last 17 French Opens, the most by any player since the pro era began in 1968. Her win Saturday left her one victory short of matching Chris Evert's record seven French Open singles titles.
Hingis served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but could not hang on, and the Roland Garros crowd jeered and whistled as the 18-year-old from Switzerland repeatedly battled with the umpire and linesmen.
"I absolutely cannot believe I won the tournament," Graf said. "It's amazing. This is the most incredible memory I will have when I look back on my career."
The victory was worth $579,081 for Graf, who will move up to No. 3 in the world, the highest she has been since losing the No. 1 spot two years ago.
It also made Graf the first woman in the open era to beat the top three players in the world at the same event. On her way to the final, Graf beat No. 2 Lindsay Davenport and No. 3 Monica Seles.
Earlier, Andre Agassi reached the French final for the third time when he completed a 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-4 victory over Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia. The match was halted by rain Friday with Agassi trailing 2-1 in the fourth set.
Agassi will try to become just the fifth man to win all four Grand Slam singles titles when he meets 100th-ranked Andrei Medvedev of Ukraine on Sunday.
The women's final was filled with arguments and trips to the umpire's chair.
Hingis, who lost her second French Open final in three year, received a warning and was penalized a point for several outbursts, and was frequently booed by the center court fans.
Graf, who was playing her first Grand Slam final since winning the French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1996, had all the sympathy on her side.
"Steffi, Steffi," the crowd chanted as the German kept coming back throughout the first two sets, against the Swiss star who dislodged her from the No. 1 ranking in March 1997.
Hingis was seeking the only Grand Slam title still missing in her collection, but she ran into a highly motivated Graf, who had been battling injuries for three years.
Hingis, who broke into tears after the match, walked off the court after shaking Graf's hand, to the jeers and whistles of the French crowd. But she returned, still in tears and sobbing in the arms of her mother, Melanie Molitor.
Hingis was up a break twice in the second set and was serving for the match at 5-4 but could not close the match.
Graf thanked the crowd for their support.
"I feel French," she said. "I've played all over the world, but I've never had a crowd like this."
She also tried to console Hingis.
"You'll have so many more chances to win, so don't worry about it," Graf said, before she also broke into tears. But they were tears of joy, as the crowd gave her another standing ovation.
Hingis recovered to address the crowd as well.
"Perhaps I can win next year, and maybe I'll have the crowd on my side," mixing English and French.
That got her some applause as well.
"I was three points away, you don't like to lose like that," Hingis said.
Hingis got a warning in the third game for smashing her racket to the ground and breaking it. She was penalized a point in the second after questioning a call and walking over to Graf's side of the court.
Hingis, who ended Graf's record 377-week reign as No. 1, asked for the umpire to come down and show her the mark. The call stood. Hingis then walked to Graf's side of the net to point at what she thought was a mark inside the court. The call still stood.
Hingis, up 2-0 in the set, then sat in her chair and asked for the supervisor. There was no change in the call and Hingis was penalized a point for a court violation, giving graf a 30-0 lead in a game she won for 2-1.
There was more arguing in the next game, with Graf getting a call against her reversed. Knowing that another outburst could cause her to be defaulted, Hingis stayed calm and blasted a passing shot to take a 3-1 lead.
The crowd was again loudly behind Graf as she broke back in the sixth game, hitting a forehand to the corner that Hingis could not get back over the net. Graf held serve for 4-3 before one of the most exhilarating points of the match.
Graf and Hingis exchanged a spectacular array of drop shots and lobs that ended with Graf firing a simple smash into the net, and Hingis pulled even at 4-4.
A backhand winner put Hingis a break up and let her serve for the match, but she quickly faced double-break point. She saved one but netted a drop-shot attempt and Graf was back at 5-5. Graf won the next game at love and broke Hingis again to win the set.
Graf took the first game of the third before both players took a break. Hingis came out much later, with a new outfit and a new hairstyle, drawing more boos and whistles.
With Hingis looking dispirited, Graf whipped to a 3-0 lead. She dropped her serve in the fifth game, but broke right back to end any hopes Hingis might have had of coming back.
Trailing 5-2 and serving to stay in the match, Hingis faced double match point. She hit an underhanded serve, stunning Graf, and saved the second match point before netting a drop shot. Graf then converted her third match point for one of her more memorable victories.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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