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Graf Thwarts Seles for U.S. Open Championship

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 10, 1995

NEW YORK, SEPT. 9 -- Steffi Graf kissed Monica Seles, her newly returned rival, after she beat her on Stadium Court to claim the U.S. Open women's championship this afternoon.

Pete Sampras, the second seed in the men's draw, shook hands and shared friendly words with 14th-seeded Jim Courier after Sampras stopped Courier's renaissance run through the tournament in the men's semifinals.

Andre Agassi, on the other hand, barely bothered to slap Boris Becker's outstretched hand.

Super Saturday lived up to its billing at Flushing Meadows, where three dramatic matches unfolded, each with its own fascinating story line. There were tears (from Graf), laughter (from Seles) and anger (from Agassi). And when it was over, one great tennis rivalry had been reborn marvelously, while another was poised to take center stage.

On a day when Graf and Seles met on a tennis court for the first time since January 1993, Agassi and Sampras, the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, each played their way into a much-anticipated meeting in the men's final, which will take place on Stadium Court at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Sampras played the first match today and needed 27 aces to oust Courier, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, in one of Courier's better-played Grand Slams in the past two years.

Agassi played the last match, one filled with fire and emotion -- Agassi's bitterness toward Becker erupting on the court. Angry over his semifinal loss to Becker at Wimbledon in July, and angrier still over Becker's comments in the aftermath, Agassi survived Becker's third-set comeback to triumph, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-2), 4-6, 6-4.

In between, the women took the court and Graf, the top seed, survived emotional turmoil and a disastrous second set to pull out a wrenching, 7-6 (8-6), 0-6, 6-3 victory over Seles, who had returned last month from a 2 1/2-year hiatus from women's tennis after being stabbed during a match in Hamburg in April 1993 to present a serious challenge to Graf's tennis dominance.

"This is the biggest win I've ever achieved," said Graf, who won her fourth U.S Open, and 18th Grand Slam title, despite a sore back, a sore foot (she had to get X-rays on Friday) and the pain of knowing her father is under arrest in Germany on tax evasion charges. "There is nothing that even comes close to this one."

It is hard to imagine topping the dramatic Graf-Seles women's final, but the Agassi-Sampras pairing should come close. They are 8-8 in career meetings, but Agassi has won three of four matches this year. Both have won a Grand Slam this year -- Agassi took the Australian, Sampras won Wimbledon -- and, the No. 1 ranking notwithstanding, both consider the U.S. Open the key to bragging rights for 1995.

The key to the Sampras-Agassi rivalry is their vastly differing styles and personalities, a contrast that was evident in their matches today. While Sampras relied on his serve and steely will to beat Courier, Agassi used his rocket-like return of serve and his fiery, often emotional demeanor to carry him past Becker.

Of course, this time it did not take all that much to get Agassi fired up. Chief among Agassi's frustrations this season is the way he lost to Becker at Wimbledon, and the way Becker responded to that -- by making critical comments about Agassi's wardrobe, his corporate sponsorship and his lack of popularity on the men's tour. In that match, Agassi was up a set and two breaks when he self-destructed in four sets. Today, Agassi was up two sets and leading 4-2 in the third when Becker broke him and went on to win the set. Agassi seemed on the verge of another Grand Slam slump similar to the Wimbledon debacle.

This time, though, he rallied. Coming back in the fourth set, Agassi broke Becker at love to take the match, then added an exclamation point by refusing to have a real handshake at the net.

"I have shown nothing but respect toward Boris my entire career . . . but after he beat me this year at Wimbledon, he said some things that bothered me on a very personal level," Agassi said.. "It is hard for me to respect anybody who is going to beat me and say so many things that are not only wrong, but meant to hurt.

"It is real simple. I respect his tennis. But once the match is over, you know, it ends there."

Becker today gave something of a half-hearted apology for his hurtful remarks at Wimbledon, stating that he had said "maybe a few things that weren't right."

"The point is, that you cannot be loved by everybody," said Becker, who stood by his comments that some players on the tour do not like Agassi. "You know, everyone has a difference of opinion about so many things and some people will like you. For the same reasons, others will not like you."

Sampras and Agassi have been billed as enemies, cordial acquaintances and good friends. Mostly, though, they respect each other's ability to bring out the best in the other's game.

"I have to say if he wins this tournament that he has had a better year than me," Agassi said of Sampras. "He would have won two Slams. And that's just the way it is. So, you know, it is a big match tomorrow on a lot of levels. And I'm looking forward to it."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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