Everybody cried. The winners cried. The losers cried. They cried into their towels at courtside and alone in their hotel rooms. Some sobbed, and some just leaked a teardrop, but the bottom line was that for such a dry French Open, it sure was wet.
Breakdowns were de rigueur on the trying red clay of Roland Garros, which is why it was so unexpected when Steffi Graf started giggling in the third set of the women's final. But maybe that's what separated Graf as she won a landmark 19th Grand Slam singles title: After two weeks of grueling play, and almost three hours of tension in the final against Aranxta Sánchez Vicario, she still had enough perspective left to laugh. Later, of course she cried.
For pure stamina and will, there has never been a champion like Graf. She proved her remarkable mental and physical toughness while defeating Sánchez Vicario 6-3, 6-7, 10-8, in the longest French women's final ever, 40 games, three hours and three minutes. Twice Sánchez Vicario served for the match in the final set, at 5-4 and at 7-6, and both times Graf held on. Things were still dire after Graf broke Sánchez Vicario for 7—all, at which point she inexplicably got the giggles. Graf then held her serve, but as she gazed around the stadium during the changeover and listened to the crowd chanting her name, she was again overwhelmed by the giddy sense of the moment. All she could do was smile. "I was trying not to laugh, because I was afraid I wouldn't concentrate," Graf said. "But a couple of times I couldn't stop myself." Graf would fight a smile over the next four games, and when Sánchez Vicario drove a last, enervated backhand into the net, Graf let loose a shriek. She composed herself temporarily but, like Sánchez Vicario, was soon wiping away tears.
Graf's 19th Grand Slam title moved her ahead of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova (18 each) on the alltime list and left her tied with Helen Wills Moody and behind only Margaret Court, who won 24. Is Graf a superior champion to Evert and Navratilova? It is an interesting question, but she shrugged it off as premature. "Maybe it will mean more later in my life," Graf said, as she sat in a lounge beneath the stadium, clad in plaid bicycle pants and a white shirt and clutching a bottle of champagne. "But what I'll really remember is the way I won."
As for the rest of the field, some were more entitled to weep than others. Henri Leconte cried because he was retiring. Jennifer Capriati, who lost in the first round, cried because life sucks. And Pete Sampras cried because he was still grieving for his coach, Tim Gullikson, who died of brain cancer last month.
Sampras had to play the equivalent of three finals to reach his first semifinal at Roland Garros. It was a pity that none of his victories came with a trophy. That went to Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who ended Sampras's emotional run in straight sets in the semis, then became the first Russian to win a Grand Slam title, dispatching Michael Stich of Germany in similarly efficient fashion (7-6, 7-5, 7-6). Kafelnikov dropped just one set in the tournament, and hefted the Coupe de Mousquetaires dry-eyed. His coach, Anatoli Lepeshin, made up for that by sobbing unreservedly.
As historic as Kafelnikov's victory was, it was Sampras's performance that will abide in memory. Sampras survived three five-set matches—defeating two-time French champion Sergi Bruguera in the second round, one-time Australian finalist Todd Martin in the third and two-time French champion Jim Courier in the quarterfinals—and he did it playing on nothing but "heart and guts," in the words of his coach, Paul Annacone.
That's scarcely an exaggeration, given the circumstances of the last month. After serving as a pallbearer at Gullikson's funeral in Wheaton, Ill., on May 7, Sampras gave his 1993 Wimbledon trophy to Gullikson's family. Then he went home to Tampa, pulling out of two tournaments and ceasing to train—until he decided that he could best serve himself and Gullikson by playing the kind of French Open that his late coach would have wanted. For much of the last year the French had been one of their chief topics of discussion, and about a week before Gullikson died, he sat on the porch at his home in Wheaton, with his twin brother, Tom, the Davis Cup captain, and Sampras. Tim was struggling to communicate, so Tom turned the conversation to tennis. "What's the most important thing Pete has to do to win the French?" Tom asked. Tim smiled and replied, "Win the last point."
Surely, the weather cooperated. Paris was struck by two almost unbroken weeks of scorching sun, with temperatures routinely 80° and above. The terre battu, usually the consistency of wet sawdust, dried to hard-court solidity, which favored serve-and-volley players like Sampras. Clay-court purists such as Michael Chang and even defending champion Thomas Muster fell by the wayside.
But so, too, did Sampras, who wilted against Kafelnikov in the heat. In his loss, he showed the frailty that could keep him from being remembered as one for the ages.