Samuel Beckett would've loved this one. Could it be any more surreal? Could it get any weirder? Graf won and said her hat was fine. A white dove landed on the court, and Sampras lost. Michael Stich and Stefan Edberg were pelted with tennis balls by the crowd. More than anything, though, there were Monica Seles sightings, Monica Seles meetings, Monica Seles memories and Monica Seles gossip at this 1995 French Open, never mind that there was no Monica Seles. Yes, she came to Paris for a few days, and, yes, she tried to hide from Chris Evert before boarding the plane that would take her there. But she never set foot on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros, and she didn't—though she was asked—show up at the presentation of the women's trophy last Saturday. Not that it mattered.
Last week's announcement that Seles, the former top player in women's tennis, would, after a 27-month hiatus, play an exhibition on July 29 against Martina Navratilova was enough to turn just about anything that happened at this storied Grand Slam event into mere background noise. For the first time since Seles was knifed at a tournament in Hamburg, Germany, in April 1993, all indications were that she would return to the tour, and that instantly turned the usual Slam question of who won into who cares. All anybody wanted to know was when.
Sure, that was unfair to Graf, the newly anointed No. 1, who had struggled mightily over the past year with back and leg injuries and yet—to her surprise—disposed of a host of name players before deposing now No. 2 Arantxa Sánchez Vicario 7-5, 4-6, 6-0 in the final. It did a giant disservice to the pugnacious Muster, whose straight-sets win over Chang not only extended his clay-court streak to 35 and gave him the most gratifying title of his career but also sealed his comeback from a horrifying auto accident in 1989, in which ligaments in his left knee were severed. "When I was a child I was dreaming about winning this tournament," Muster said after his victory. "When I was making match points in unimportant matches, I had in my mind, This is match point at Roland Garros. Today, it was a reality."
But the mean fact is, tennis at the moment needs Seles more than it needs Muster's admirable climb, more than it needs another Graf resurgence. The play—no, work—at Roland Garros this year was notable only for its artlessness. If the French Open is famous for plodding pace, upsets and battered bodies, this was the ultimate. Graf and Sánchez Vicario battled fevers throughout. The men who didn't succumb to injury, weariness or brainlock snarled at linesmen, at the ball, at each other, and the crowds snarled right back at them. By the end of the first week nine of the 16 men's seeds were gone, and by the final Sunday there were only Chang and Muster, slugging, screeching, enduring for two hours and one minute. It was something to see, and even better to hear. But it wasn't anything close to glorious.
And the women? "I cannot watch the women—forget about it," says Russian veteran Andrei Chesnokov. "I'm sorry. I like the women, but not in tennis. For me, women's tennis doesn't exist. For me, women's tennis is in slow motion."
Harsh, indeed, but the officials at the French Tennis Federation (FTF) seemed to agree; accurately anticipating small crowds, the FTF scheduled every women's quarterfinal match away from the marquee stadium. The French officials know: Though Sánchez Vicario and Graf have traded the No. 1 spot six times this year, neither is being pushed to brilliance but rather is treading water. The depth of the women's game? Graf wasn't in match shape, hates clay and wasn't even sure, two weeks before the French Open, that she would enter the tournament. Yet she lost just one game to the fading Sabatini in the quarterfinals, erased any pretensions No. 4 Conchita Martínez might have of equality in the semifinal, then stomped Sánchez Vicario in their final set. "I didn't expect to be in the finals or win it," Graf said. "I haven't played."
That she worked her way back speaks eloquently of Graf's drive. Last fall a bone spur in her lower back was so debilitating that Graf wasn't sure she would ever play top-level tennis again. On the podium last Saturday she wept and smiled in a way few have ever seen, celebrating one of the most emotional Slams of her career.
"It's been difficult the last few months," Graf said after improving her 1995 match record to 25-0. "This is extremely rewarding."
Yet Graf can't work alone. With Seles out, Jennifer Capriati in self-imposed exile and youngsters Martina Hingis and Venus Williams still emerging, women's tennis now slogs through an era defined by the act of an unemployed German lathe operator. Seles won seven of the last eight Grand Slam events she played, and Graf knows that winning without Seles doesn't mean as much. She and the tour both need Seles back.
"I love challenge," Graf says. "The most fun you get is when you have tough matches and you're pushed to your limits. She was one of the players who did that to me. So...I've missed her."