Victorious Graf rewrites the script

John Roberts reports on the right result for women's tennis at Flushing Meadow
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The Independent Online
It ended in tears, but only because Steffi Graf was quizzed once too often about her father/manager, Peter, who is currently in a German prison accused of evading tax on her earnings. Sobbing, she fled from the media interview room.

Apart from that, it was a refreshingly wholesome occasion, encapsulated by embraces and exchanges of warm words when Graf and Monica Seles met at the net after their first contest since Seles was stabbed by an obsessive Graf supporter in Hamburg 29 months ago.

Although Graf spoiled a great comeback story by winning a magnificent, oscillating United States Open final, 7-6, 0-6, 6-3, most people involved in the organisation of the sport agreed it was the best result for the credibility of the women's game. They would have been disturbed if Seles, after such a long absence, had been able to dismantle the genuine world No 1 in the same way that she had dealt with her previous opponents.

It was almost as if Graf read the synopsis - Seles returns without a computer point to her name, is ranked co-No 1, and steamrollers her way to triumph - and rejected it, although she insisted that she did not anticipate being around to play a part in the final act. "I didn't expect to be still out there and playing that well," Graf said. "There were a lot of obstacles to climb over and it was difficult to focus, because all the time something else was coming up. Going out there today, I didn't feel like I would have the tools for it."

Her apprehension disappeared when she began to serve like a Wimbledon champion - Pete Sampras. In the opening set, Graf clobbered Seles with a number of deliveries over 100mph. Moreover, the German's returns were so sharp that Seles was drawn into rallies of far greater pace and intensity than any she had experienced in the 11 previous matches of her comeback, which she had won without dropping a set.

Even so, Seles lost her serve only once, netting a forehand in the fourth game of the final set, and in the end there was only a point between them. Seles did not have any difficulty identifying it as the 12th point of the first set tie-break: a set point gifted to her when Graf double-faulted to 5-6.

Seles was so convinced that she had secured the set with an ace down the centre line that she paused from grunting and screamed at the umpire when a fault was called. Graf pounced on the second serve and went on to win the shoot-out, 8-6.

"If the ball is out, I know it," Seles said, "but this one, to me, was clearly in. It was bugging me too long, and shouldn't have."

Fine. But where did Graf disappear to for the 27 minutes of the second set? She was still on court, but had stopped serving like Sampras and was now impersonating a former US Open champion, Gabriela Sabatini. Graf even allowed herself to be distracted by a couple of seagulls perched on the scoreboard.

"That was stupid of me, really," she said, "but even in the tie-breaker I was getting a little tentative and I could feel that my serve wasn't going as good any more. I was getting quite a bit nervous, and I don't know why."

Graf settled down again after saving a break point in the third game of the final set, and became the first player to win the title after losing a set to love in the final. She was able to absorb the odd close call against her better than Seles, who described one on the opening point of the concluding game, with Graf serving, as "like somebody poured cold ice over me".

A celebratory beer was poured over the victorious Graf by fellow players when she returned to the locker room after adding the title to her successes at Wimbledon and the French Open. It was her 18th Grand Slam singles championship, and she has now won each of the majors at least four times. She has lost only one of her 40 matches this year - to the South African, Amanda Coetzer, in the first round of the Canadian Open a month ago.

Graf intends to rest her suspect back and injured left foot while catching up on legal matters. She is due to compete at Brighton on 16 October. Seles, who has a sore left knee, has yet to decide whether to go to Brighton as part of her preparations for the WTA Championships in November.

Rehabilitation is the name of the game, and the ailing WTA Tour has received a "multi-million-dollar" sponsorship offer from the Canadian computer softwear company, Corel.

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