There's nothing like Paris in the springtime, they say. As these 10 epics—the 10 most memorable French Open matches of the Open Era—show, there's also nothing quite as stirring or sensation as tennis in Paris at this time of year.
From the vantage point of 2018, Seles vs. Graf is the Rivalry That Should Have Been. But in early June 1992, it was very much the match-up of the moment, and one that appeared destined to match the length and intensity of the last great WTA rivalry, between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
When they stepped onto Court Philippe Chatrier for the ’92 French Open final, a long future together seemed to be ahead of them. Graf, despite having won a calendar-year Grand Slam four years earlier, was still a few days from her 23rd birthday, while Seles, despite having won four of the last five majors, was just 19. Seles was No. 1 in the world, Graf No. 2; it had been two years since any other woman had won a major.
In the late 1980s, Steffi had looked unstoppable. She finished that decade by winning seven of the last majors, and in the 1988 French Open final she beat Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in 32 minutes. Few could have imagined that anyone tougher or better than Graf would come along anytime soon. Even fewer could have imagined that it would be a 99-pound 15-year-old who swung with two hands on both sides. But that’s what Seles was when she made her debut in 1988. By 1990, she had taken Graf’s French Open title; by ’91, she had taken her No. 1 ranking; by the spring of ’92, tennis fans were wondering if Seles, who was 4-0 in major finals, could be stopped.
For the first 30 minutes of this match, it didn’t look like Graf was going to be the one to slow her down. After a feeling-out process over the first few games, Seles gradually upped the pace on her baseball-swing strokes, and ran away with the first set. For years, it had been Graf’s opponents who had tried to find ways to disrupt her all-powerful game. Now the shoe was on the other foot. It was Graf who was forced to find ways—mixing spins and paces, keeping the ball low or high—to disrupt Seles’s ultra-solid two-fisted attack. In the second set, Graf succeeded. Using her serve as her primary weapon and trying to be the aggressor, she pushed her younger rival to a third set.
WATCH—Seles defeats Graf to win the 1992 French Open title: