Wondering what the Tournament of Champions is, and how we got here? Read more about our 50th Anniversary Celebration and get caught up on all the matches so far.
It appeared, in the early 1990s, that this match-up would pick up where Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova had left off a few years earlier. When Graf and Seles began sparring for the top spot, their rivalry had all the makings of a decade-spanning contest for supremacy that would be played out in a long series of Grand Slam finals. But while Steffi and Monica did face each other 15 times over the course of 10 years, it was tragedy, rather than glory, that tied their careers together: Seles was never the same player after she was stabbed on court in Hamburg in 1993 by a lunatic Graf fan.
The German would finish with a 10-5 record in their head to head, but in the early '90s Seles had the edge. “There’s no question that Graf had problems with Seles,” Virginia Wade says, “and the fact that Monica hit the ball early and with such ferocity.” When the two did square off in their primes, Graf’s vaulting speed and knockout forehand were pitted against Seles’ double-sided, double-handed attack—Steffi was the superior athlete, Monica the more relentless ball-striker.
Yet even when Seles was at her brutal best, from 1990 to ’92, Graf held her own. “I thought that just before the unfortunate incident,” Wade says, “which scarred Seles so much and also affected Steffi, that Graf was beginning to get the hang of Monica.” The two finished 3-3 on clay, but Graf led on outdoor hard courts (3-2) and grass (2-0). “Two tight sets,” Brad Gilbert predicts, “and then Steffi rolls her on grass.”