PARIS, JUNE 11 -- How quickly they tired of Paris. From Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker to Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi, the favorites streamed out of the French Open in listless upsets. It also was a tournament marked by the unexpected as Monica Seles and Andres Gomez, not a little incredulously, won it.
The middle generation of tennis, those just into their twenties and at their height, displayed a curious ennui. It was as if they were weary of the French Open and its tree-lined Parisian boulevards, stone angels and the dull, crushed, red brick courts of Roland Garros. Graf's heart was missing as 16-year-old Seles defeated her in Saturday's final, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4. Becker and Edberg suffered ludicrous first-round upsets, tossing the men's title up in the air to be jostled for by an array of qualifiers, rookies and dark horses.
None was greater than the 30-year-old, ninth-ranked Gomez, whose defeat of 20-year-old, fifth-ranked Agassi on Sunday, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, gave him his first Grand Slam title and, more than likely, his last. Gomez was both a beginner in his first major final after 12 years, and a long shot whose career will last three or four more seasons before he retires to become a shrimp farmer.
"It really hasn't hit me yet," he said. "I will have to drink a few beers, get some sleep, and wake up and read the papers before I say, 'It's true.' "
Gomez was the sole veteran to last in a tournament otherwise dominated by youth, with a certain amount of silliness as a result. Fourteen-year-old Jennifer Capriati showed great maturity until she reached the semifinals and was wiped out by Seles, 6-2, 6-2. Off the court she referred to Napoleon as "Oh, yeah, that little dead dude."
Agassi, the garish American men's hope from Las Vegas, carried around pictures of his sports cars, took his meals at McDonalds and called French Tennis Federation President Philippe Chatrier "a bozo." Seles, a Yugoslavian who has resided in Bradenton, Fla., since 1986, begged her parents for a Lamborghini even though she has only a Florida learner's permit. Her parents, Karolj and Esther, would prefer something safer and more dependable.
"The other car, I just don't feel a proper click with it," she said.
The French Open often is a harbinger of trends, developments and faces in tennis. Because the dulling clay court requires such steadfast play and shot-making, it can be extremely revealing. Gomez was shown to be more courageous than anyone knew, Graf to be shockingly vulnerable, Seles and Capriati to be revelations, and Becker and Edberg to be in poor form.
Agassi's performance was encouraging, but left questions unanswered. He showed a fortitude he had not possessed before, in making his first Grand Slam final, but once in it his performance was uninspired.
The 6-foot-4, left-handed Gomez reduced Agassi to desperation with nine aces and countless other service winners. He ended the first set with a twisting second-serve ace that spun into the stands. At 5-11, Agassi looked like a small, scrambling boy, if grittier than he had been before. The turning point came at 4-4 in the third set, when Agassi led by 40-15, but could not hold serve against Gomez's charge to the net.
Afterward, Agassi's subdued answer was that he needs to grow still stronger, despite his already bludgeoning ground strokes. He has put on substantial muscle in the last year, stocky-legged and thicker in the chest and neck, and he talked about strength almost compulsively. But experience in such a big event also is a factor. He will be absent from Wimbledon, refusing to play there since a first-round loss to Henri Leconte in 1987, and his immediate plan was to go home and work out.
"If I didn't feel disappointed about coming in second I wouldn't be one heck of a competitor," he said. "I gave it a heck of a shot, and I feel good about that. . . . I feel strength has been a big factor. I still have a long ways to go and next time around I feel I'll be much tougher to beat."
There probably will not be a next time around for Gomez, who profited by the upsets and the absence of top-ranked Ivan Lendl more than any player in the field. It was the first time in 12 years and 28 tries that Gomez had moved beyond the quarterfinals in any of the Grand Slam events -- the Australian and French opens, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Gomez is a fluid clay expert whose failure to contend until now was largely due to a dumbfounding inconsistency. Against Agassi, for instance, he struck 72 unforced errors, hurling the ball yards deep or into the bottom of the net. But he also made 58 winners. It was a cur-iosity of the match that Agassi won more points, 119 to 118. Gomez simply won the crucial ones.
"I have said it throughout the years, I don't have a great pair of legs to keep me on the court for six hours," Gomez said. "My game is not based on how many errors I make, but how many winners I make. Some people don't like that. I do."
He briefly had considered retiring last year. But he maintains the French title is not the end of something but a start. Gomez has lost 15 pounds this season and, playing some of his best if most confusing tennis, is not likely to change his tactics now.
"I have gone a step farther in my career, this is not it," he said. "Now I'll have a little more confidence because I know what I'm capable of doing. Maybe I can go another two, three or four years. By far this is the best I've played, not even close to my previous level."
Becker and Edberg are not close to their previous levels either, only they are spiraling downward. Becker's loss to 18-year-old comer Goran Ivanisevic of Yugoslavia and Edberg's to 19-year-old Sergi Bruguera of Spain were symptomatic of season-long malaises. "I've got to sort myself out," Becker said. Edberg's play is not the problem, it's his attitude, according to his coach, Tony Pickard. "He's just a bit negative," he said.
Their struggles would seem to give Lendl an excellent chance of capturing his first Wimbledon, the only Grand Slam tournament he hasn't won. But the losses did give Becker and Edberg extra time to practice on grass, their best surface, and a resurgence can be expected.
"I'm only 22, I wouldn't write my career off yet," Becker said.
The player with the most sorting out to do is Graf. The 20-year-old 1988 Grand Slam winner suffered an obvious loss of confidence after her second straight-set defeat to Seles in as many meetings, and her second successive upset in the French final. She held four set points against Seles in the first-set tiebreaker, and still lost it, Seles sweeping six points in a row, the fourth on a double fault by the West German.
While Graf is disturbed, somewhere No. 2 Martina Navratilova has to be considering her chances quite good for a record ninth Wimbledon title. But Graf's biggest problem in the long term is not the 33-year-old Navratilova, it is the younger set represented by Seles, winner of six straight tournaments, and last year's French champion, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. And soon she will be faced with Capriati, the youngest semifinalist in French Open history and only the fourth player to reach that far in her first Grand Slam event, joining Maureen Connolly, Chris Evert and Seles.
In 1987 Graf beat Navratilova in the final here to win her first major championship and begin her reign, eventually unseating the world's No. 1 and claiming eight of the next nine Grand Slam tournaments. There is considerable speculation that Seles now may be signaling something similar to Graf: She extended Graf to three sets in the semifinals last year and reappeared like a bad dream this season to beat her soundly, 6-4, 6-3, in the German Open final three weeks ago.
Are Graf's days as No. 1, even at the preposterous age of 20, numbered? "I don't know," she snapped. Certainly her aura of invincibility has faded, at least temporarily.
"I have enough motivation," she said. "Now you see new faces, people are interested in them. There's a different atmosphere in the tournaments."