Two of tennis' most distinctive stylists renewed their rivalry in dream clash between the top seeds. At least one of them had contested the U.S. Open final for seven straight years as they reconvened for a riveting final.
Two years before the grand opening of Arthur Ashe Stadium, the video above begins with the women making the dramatic march from the old player locker room (where the USTA's indoor courts are now housed) through a throng of fans into Louis Armstrong Stadium, like two boxers making the pre-fight walk into the ring. A smiling Seles waves to fans, blue Yonex bag slung over her right shoulder and a black brace wrapped around her left knee.
"Everything about life is funny," a smiling Seles said after her 6-2, 6-2 sweep of fourth-seeded Conchita Martinez in the semifinal. "If you can't laugh at life, then why are you living? Just to be in the final, gosh!. . . It's beyond what I dreamt of. To play against Steffi is going to be fun. It's going to be a great day, either way it goes. Definitely I am going to be psyched for it."
Graf, who spent 90 minutes at a New York hospital to have an MRI performed on her aching foot the night before the final, already had her game face on as she scampered up the steps leading to the stadium.
This was an emotional, dramatic spectacle. It was the rivals' first meeting in more than two years and a triumph for both, as Seles, sidelined for 27 months after suffering a horrific stabbing in the back by a madman on court, reached the final in the second event of her comeback.
Graf spun a second serve beyond the box, handing Seles set point at 6-5 in the first-set tiebreaker 46 minutes into the match. Seles, who spent down-time between points pumping herself up with pep talks, unloaded a stinging serve down the middle and began dancing to her court-side seat, believing the serve was an ace. But the ball was called wide. Graf then greeted a 66 M.P.H. second serve with severe disdain, crushing an inside-out forehand winner to level the tiebreaker. Seles then scattered successive errors as Graf erupted in a celebratory scream to take the first set.
Undeterred, Seles stormed back. Forcing Graf to defend her deep drives, Seles, one of the most skilled players in history at landing the short, sharp angle with both accuracy and pace, steamrolled through the second set at love and seemed to have command.
Graf had other ideas.
"The longer this match goes on, I think Graf has a better chance to win," CBS analyst Martina Navratilova said late in the first set. That comment proved prescient.
Realizing her court coverage and conditioning were major assets, Graf began to change the pace a bit more, using her slice backhand and flat forehand combination to disrupt Seles' rhythm, force the two-handed titan to bend for low balls, and stretch the court. It was a crucial tactical adjustment.
Despite playing on a sore foot, watch some third-set points and focus on Graf's movement from the waist down to witness some of the finest footwork professional tennis has ever seen. Graf glided across the court effortlessly, saving a break point in the third game of the decider in capturing her third consecutive major title and 18th career Grand Slam championship.