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Majoli Upsets Hingis, Captures French Open Crown

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 8, 1997; Page D1

PARIS, June 7 — Martina Hingis, the 16-year-old tennis sensation, ended the French Open today playing the unlikely — and unusual — role of gracious loser at Stade Roland Garros. She had her standard bright smile fixed on her face. She gave the standard waves to her adoring crowd. But she did not have the standard trophy to take home.

Iva Majoli — a bubbly, demonstrative 19-year-old from Croatia, wrought the biggest French Open upset in the open era today on Center Court, where she made her Grand Slam final debut. Playing the most brilliant tennis of her career, Majoli overpowered a tired and uncharacteristically slow Hingis, 6-4, 6-2, to hand the world's No. 1 player her first loss this year. Majoli also became the lowest seed (No. 9) to win the tournament in the open era, and the first Croatian to win any Grand Slam.

"I just felt there was more pressure on Martina than on me today, because she's number one," Majoli said. "She's the one who had to win today. I was the one who, if I lost, would have had a great tournament. Now that I've won, it's great."

Majoli kept her boyfriend practically locked in their hotel room — "He was my prisoner," she joked today — during her earlier matches, because she was so nervous about her performance. He didn't get to watch her long, arduous quarterfinal victory over Ruxandra Dragomir, one that ended with both players lying together on the red clay. He didn't get to watch her semifinal marathon against Amanda Coetzer, the player who had knocked Steffi Graf out of the draw. She let him come today.

With her boyfriend (whose name shall remain a secret, as a giggling Majoli insisted) on hand, along with several friends and family members, Majoli added one more big moment to her memorable French Open when Hingis hit a backhand into the net on the second match point, and the Croatian threw up her arms in glee.

Hingis and Majoli embraced warmly, the two teenagers rubbing each other's backs and sharing whispered giggles like a couple of girls who had just come from the prom. Majoli was almost shaking in her excitement. And Hingis — who graciously refused to use her cramping and exhaustion as a means of demeaning Majoli's accomplishment — never allowed the smile to slip from her face.

"I don't want to take anything away from Iva," said Hingis, who had won 40 straight matches — including the Australian Open — before today's loss. "We had a great match. She just played her best tennis in this tournament. She won a Grand Slam. Only champs can win Grand Slam tournaments, that's for sure."

Two grueling weeks of tennis proved to be too much for Hingis, who had knee surgery less than two months ago. She played a draining 2-hour 18-minute semifinal match against Monica Seles on Thursday, and a grueling match with partner Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the women's doubles semifinals on Friday. And though she said today that she did not regret playing both singles and doubles, Hingis was clearly worn out, seeming almost to droop in the heavy air and hot sun.

"This tournament has been pretty long," Hingis said. "The goal was to reach the semifinals. I made that. I got to the final. . . . No one sees what hard work it was, everything, to get here, after the surgery. It's just been like a wonder that I could compete at this tournament."

Down a set and floundering, Hingis took a bathroom break after the fifth game of the second set (a move that Majoli said might have been a bit of gamesmanship, given that she had just broken Hingis for a 3-2 lead). It did absolutely no good. Majoli held serve, then broke Hingis again to put herself in position to serve for the match.

During that changeover, Hingis took an injury timeout, and was treated for tightness and cramping in her left thigh. She returned to the court moving slowly, and seemed barely able to chase most of the shots that Majoli hit, wisely, to the far corners of the court. For the entire match, Hingis did not seem to be as quick or as agile as usual, losing long points when Majoli ran her from corner to corner, and never once breaking Majoli's serve.

When asked afterward if she was not the "real Martina" in today's match, Hingis shrugged and said, "What can I answer?"

"I really had to be aggressive the whole match," said Majoli, who overpowered Hingis from the baseline and pounced on her soft second serves. "My plan was just to attack her serve, put more pressure on her forehand, just be aggressive, play my game. I was just feeling I was in control the whole time. Everything worked well for me."

Majoli endeared herself to the French Open crowd two years ago by filling time during an opponent's bathroom break by volleying with a ballboy on Center Court. The crowd clearly was taken with her when she made a point of saying "thank you" — in French — to the spectators during the postmatch ceremony.

Majoli seemed almost overwhelmed when she received the traditional Suzanne Lenglen trophy from Chris Evert, one of her idols, and she broke into a fit of giggles when she was asked to give a little speech. She was sweet and funny and highly complimentary of the French Open, which she called her favorite Grand Slam tournament.

And, all the while, Hingis stood by her side, the gracious loser, one who said "no problem" when asked later how she felt about the end of her winning streak. She wasn't used to being the runner-up, that was obvious, but she didn't seem all that upset. After all, as she herself told the crowd at Center Court today, this is only the first of what Hingis expects to be many appearances in the French Open final.

"I don't think," Hingis told the fans, grinning, "that this is the last time I'm going to be here."

Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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