SI Vault
Alexander Wolff
June 18, 1990
At the French Open, teenager Monica Seles (right) continued to make noises, and veteran Andr�s G�mez silenced a brash young American
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June 18, 1990

Grunt, Squeak, Victory!

At the French Open, teenager Monica Seles (right) continued to make noises, and veteran Andr�s G�mez silenced a brash young American

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If you didn't Giggle and Grunt, if you didn't have a learner's permit in your wallet or homework being faxed to your hotel, the women's draw of the French Open was a closed shop. Monica Seles, the 16-year-old claymation figure from Yugoslavia by way of the tennis gulags of Florida, became the youngest woman ever to prevail at Roland Garros—and the youngest winner of a Grand Slam since Lottie Dod won Wimbledon in 1887—with a 7-6, 6-4 defeat of Steffi Graf in Paris last Saturday.

On the men's side, a graybeard, one of only six players 30 or older in the draw, triumphed. Ecuador's Andr�s G�mez, 30, is a 12-year veteran who's so rarely in the spotlight that during Sunday's final, NBC cameras repeatedly honed in on the wrong woman for their wife-in-the-stands shots. But G�mez, the fourth seed, beat the 20-year-old, third-seeded Andre Agassi 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 before a crowd that had taken Las Vegas's enfant terrible to heart.

Whatever your opinion of Agassi's fluorescent tennis clothing, a subject about which Agassi feuded with Philippe Chatrier, the president of the International Tennis Federation and the major domo of the French Open, you had to feel for the Pooh-Bahs at Roland Garros. They thought they were running a Grand Slam event and instead got Junior Year Abroad. Still, if you considered Agassi ostentatious and G�mez dull, you could always thank heaven for little girls.

Ingenues on clay—traditionally one-dimensional athletes—would seem to be unlikely sources of excitement. However, only months after the women's circuit bid au revoir to Chris Evert, a promising new generation of players has emerged.

The new kids—Seles, 14-year-old Jennifer Capriati of the U.S. and puckish Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, 18, of Spain, the defending French champion, who was upset in the second round by her doubles partner, Mercedes Paz, 23—aren't generating interest entirely by their personalities, though each seems likable enough. Just as riveting are their styles on court: dashing, daring, even cold-blooded. Seles, Capriati and Sanchez-Vicario all zing their backhands harder than Graf, who is now a doddering 21. "Tennis players have simply gotten better over time," says Evert, who was in Paris to work as a commentator for NBC. "It's about time something like this happened."

Martina Navratilova skipped the goings-on at Roland Garros, choosing to practice on grass in preparation for Wimbledon, which she hopes to win for a record-breaking ninth time. On the men's side, Ivan Lendl, the world's No. 1 player, also passed up the French to prepare for Wimbledon, which he hopes to win for the first time. Two other notable men were absent: The burned-out Mats Wilander was burying his father, Einar, in Sweden, while John McEnroe claimed injury but allowed that in light of his expulsion from the Australian Open in January, he feared a lapse of etiquette in Paris would disqualify him from Wimbledon by putting him over the ITF's 12-month fine limit. The top two men's seeds at Roland Garros, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, might as well have bagged the French too. They both were first-round losers—to Spain's Sergi Bruguera, 19, and Yugoslavia's Goran Ivanisevic, 18, respectively.

The most beguiling of the teenagers was the youngest, Capriati, who was playing her first Grand Slam event. Off court, she took in the town, appreciating it as best she could considering that her sense of history comes from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. She visited Notre Dame, which took her aback, inasmuch as she had thought it was a football field.

She obliged her many fans by slugging her way into the semis without dropping a set to become the youngest woman ever to advance so far in a major championship. Once there, though, Capriati fell 6-2, 6-2 to Seles, though she saved five match points before succumbing.

Seles reached the finals with 31 consecutive wins, a streak stretching back to March 17. Until recently she had been coached by Nick Bollettieri, the Florida tennis guru who also coaches Agassi. His parting with Seles was bitter. In 1986 the Seles clan—her father, Karolj; her mother, Esther; her brother, Zoltan; and her dog, Astro—moved from their home in Novi Sad to an apartment just outside the grounds of Bollettieri's tennis academy in Bradenton. In March the Seleses became upset with the amount of time Bollettieri was spending with Agassi and left, announcing that Karolj would be his daughter's coach—which, Monica insists, he had really been all along.

Bollettieri maintains that the Seleses owe him tens of thousands of dollars for room, board, travel and other amenities. However, he's most upset at what he considers their attempt to rewrite history. "If I wasn't her coach, I don't know what I did for those thousands of hours," says Bollettieri. "Not only did we put the time in on the court; we supported the whole family. They dispute everything."

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