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Down and Dirty
Sally Jenkins
June 15, 1992
In a French Open that required more grit than grace, Monica Seles outlasted Steffi Graf to win her third consecutive Grand Slam title
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June 15, 1992

Down And Dirty

In a French Open that required more grit than grace, Monica Seles outlasted Steffi Graf to win her third consecutive Grand Slam title

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Pierce, openly resentful of both the USTA and the Capriatis, worked himself into a lather as Mary and Jennifer worked their way through the draw. He said he slugged two spectators who heckled him during one of Mary's mixed doubles matches and had to be shushed by her during her third-round win over Andrea Strnadova. Pierce's anticipation was heightened by the fact that he saw financial potential in a victory over Jennifer. He told Mary that if she won, she should unpin and shake out her long blonde hair, in hopes of landing a lucrative shampoo deal. However, after taking a 3-1 lead in the first set, Mary began spraying balls all around the stadium, and Jennifer went on to win 6-4, 6-3. "She didn't do what I told her to," said Pierce, who, for a change, did nothing to embarrass his daughter during the match. He and Stefano even shook hands when it was over.

That match was Jennifer's lone bright moment in Paris, for a day later she faced Seles. A lusterless Jennifer committed 37 unforced errors and lost 6-2, 6-2. "Everything felt heavy and slow," she said.

Like Pierce and Capriati, Seles is coached by her father. Seles, however, continues to thrive even when it seems she should be most tired. That may be because on those mornings when she wakes up and doesn't want to practice with her dad, Karolj, she doesn't. "If I don't want to, I don't," she says. "He's never said, 'You've got to put in those four hours.' "

Moreover, Seles does not appear to be fit, her strokes are awkward, and nothing about her movement is graceful. She doesn't train off the court, although she has recently begun to do some long-distance running with Karolj. "We put in a lot of miles at a slow pace," she says.

With those habits, how many more times will she pull out tournaments like this one? She clearly was tired during the final. On the other hand, Seles won a five-set, three-hour-and-47-minute match against Sabatini in the finals of the 1990 Virginia Slims Championships. One secret to Seles may be that she thrives on the stage. "I love it," she said. "I love the stadium. I love the crowd."

As does Courier. Ninety-eight of the Top 100 men entered the French Open, but from the beginning the tournament was Courier's to lose. As the competition wore on, his primary threats looked to be 11th-seeded Andre Agassi, who had reached the final the past two years; third-seeded Pete Sampras, who for the first time looked comfortable on clay; and Henri Leconte, the French Davis Cup hero of last year. The three Americans eyed each other speculatively. All of France eyed Leconte.

En route to the semifinals, Leconte upset a succession of unsuspecting players, including Michael Stich, the defending Wimbledon champion and a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year. The 28-year-old Leconte made do with a huge serve and sleight-of-hand volleying. There was a time when he was regarded more with irritation than admiration by the French, especially after he collapsed against Mats Wilander in the 1988 French Open final. But Leconte got back into their good graces when he led France to a stunning upset of the U.S. in the final of the '91 Davis Cup competition.

Ranked No. 200 on the computer, Leconte considered turning down the offer of a wild-card place at Roland Garros: An early-round humiliation would jeopardize his newfound status as national hero. But Leconte played on a swell of emotion and became a factor in the tournament after he recovered from a two-set deficit to defeat Nicklas Kulti of Sweden in the quarterfinals.

However, while he was winning matches, Leconte was also admitting, "I am not very fit." The Kulti match sapped his shallow reserves. Korda's 6-2, 7-6, 6-3 victory two days later was so quick and overwhelming that there was no time for sorrow. Leconte just rejoiced that he had done his bit for his country once more. "I never dreamed that I could play like that again," he said.

If you were looking for someone to blame for the pothole that constituted the bottom half of the draw, that would be the unseeded Kulti, the 1989 world junior champion and a nettlesome presence throughout the fortnight. In the first round he reduced John McEnroe to a mere ornament, defeating him 6-2, 7-5, 6-7, 7-5. Then he reduced fifth-seeded Michael Chang, winner of the French Open in 1989, almost to tears. In the most captivating match of the tournament, Chang fought off eight match points before succumbing in a light rain by a score of 7-6, 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 8-6.

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