When the women’s singles draw came out for the 1992 French Open, it was hard to imagine any two players besides Steffi Graf and Monica Seles meeting in the finals. Between them, Graf and Seles had won four of the last five Roland Garros titles, Seles now in pursuit of the first Paris three-peat in more than 50 years.
Firepower, tenacity – these two shared much. While Graf was a better mover, Seles’ double-double-handed arsenal made her more likely to strike boldly off both sides. There was also a generational struggle. Graf, four years older than Seles, had been number one in the world from 1987-’90 – but was overtaken by Seles, a changing of the guard most emphatically demonstrated when Seles beat Graf in the 1990 Roland Garros final. Two years later, on June 6, 1992, the two met yet again.
Seles bolted out of the gates, taking 12 of the first 14 points to go up 3-0 and rapidly close out the first set, 6-2. But several games into the second set, Graf stepped it up, most notably with her whip-like forehand. Soon, she had leveled it, 6-3.
The rallies had been furious, each driving the ball deep and hard. Corners, angles, power, grit – all surfaced point after point.
Though Seles soon went ahead 5-3 in the third, Graf again countered. Four times the German faced championship point. Each time she swatted it away. With Seles serving for the title, Graf broke for 5-all. On it went. Graf, serving at 8-8, 30-all, struck a forehand inches long and then found herself the mouse to Seles’ cat, the point eventually terminated by a Seles crosscourt backhand. Serving now for the title for the second time, Seles went up 40-15. Again, Graf fought back, saving the championship point with a forehand down the line winner. But at 40-30, a Graf forehand hit the tape. Point to Seles. It had lasted two hours and 43 minutes – the longest Roland Garros women’s final since 1955.
“Even when it’s close, even when she’s tired, she’s always going for it,” said Graf.
Seles: “It was so close, both of us deserved to win.”
(with thanks to Randy Walker and Mikki Singh for their app, On This Day in Tennis History)
(a big thanks to my Tennis Channel colleague Steve Flink and his book, “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time”)