Game, set and matchless

Pam Shriver pays tribute to a marathon game of lasting quality
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The Independent Online
THAT was definitely one of the great Wimbledon finals - because of the tension, because of the quality of the play and because it was decided on one of the greatest games of all time. As far as tension, drama and quality of tennis goes, the 11th game of the third set, 34 points long over 20 minutes, ranks up there with the famous Borg v McEnroe tie- break of 1980. And remember, Borg v McEnroe wasn't the final set, which this was.

You don't get 34-point games very often, much less at 5-5 in the third set of the Wimbledon final, and in the middle part of it, there were some very high- quality shots. OK, so there was some safety going on in that game, but there were some great winners, some great tactics, and I don't know how many balls landed within a couple of inches of the line, so there was a lot of bravery out there too.

Once Steffi Graf had won that game, the match was hers. The last player you would ever write off is Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, but the emotions in that game, its length and the timing of it within the match just had to give Graf victory. That game was a killer. When someone wins a match like that, 7-5 in the third, they are not a better player on the day, they just ended up nosing out ahead in a battle.

Sanchez Vicario had started the match so well. On paper, she doesn't look to be a grass-court contender, but she had a great gameplan here, mixing it up and coming to the net. Her opening service game was very important: she held it to love, she came into the net and she serve-volleyed. In other words, she was saying to Graf: "I'm going after this. I'm taking this match to you. I'm going to be aggressive."

It was certainly working. Up until the fourth game of the second set, Sanchez Vicario had only dropped five points on her serve. Who would ever have believed that? But then Graf won fives games in a row to make it one set each, and then, of course, they traded games until that incredible penultimate game where the outcome was decided.

There have been a lot of dramatic women's finals here - Martina Navratilova's first win over Chrissie Evert in 1978, Graf's victory over Gabriela Sabatini in 1991, having had two match points against her, that was a dramatic final too. Whenever it's tight in the end, it's a great final, but it takes a game like the penultimate one here to make a match really stand out. People will be talking about that game for a long, long time.