MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, JAN. 24 (THURSDAY) -- Monica Seles saved one match point, steeled herself against Mary Joe Fernandez's all-court attack and survived a rugged duel to reach the final of the Australian Open today.
No. 3 Fernandez, runner-up last year to Steffi Graf, came within a stroke of beating No. 2 Seles before losing by 6-3, 0-6, 9-7 in 2 hours 38 minutes of long, often wonderful rallies.
No. 10 Jana Novotna, having beaten Graf in the quarterfinals, downed No. 6 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-2, 6-4, earlier today.
On Wednesday, Patrick McEnroe, 24, all his life just John's younger brother, became his own man with a gutsy, classy show and a glorious run of luck -- seven net cords in the last two sets -- in the most dramatic match of this Grand Slam event to reach the semifinals.
Tears trickled down his cheeks and the crowd rose in a loud, sustained ovation when McEnroe, his torso wrapped in a brace, ended a 3 1/2 hour thriller by beating Cristiano Caratti, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2. He next will play No. 2 Boris Becker, with top-seeded Stefan Edberg and No. 3 Ivan Lendl meeting in the other semifinal.
Seles, down 30-40 while serving in the 12th game of the last set, saved the match point and gained deuce when Fernandez netted a backhand. After Fernandez hit a forehand long, Seles held with a service winner.
Both players held to 7-7 before Fernandez missed on a shot that had brought her so much success earlier in the match -- a drop shot that several times had caught Seles at the baseline. This time, though, her backhand drop hit the net, the first of four straight points she lost as Seles broke her at love.
Seles then served out the match, winning with an ace to Fernandez's backhand.
Novotna played aggressively at the net in upsetting three-time defending Graf and No. 8 Zina Garrison in the fourth round. But against Sanchez Vicario, she stayed on the baseline and won a match of sloppy ground strokes.
Barely an hour into the McEnroe-Caratti match, the New Yorker felt a shot of pain on the left side of his back while serving in the fourth game of the second set. He won that game to go up 3-1, then called a three-minute injury timeout during the changeover after Caratti held.
A trainer massaged McEnroe and snapped a corset around his back. And in that condition, the pain stabbing occasionally, dull and annoying the rest of the time, McEnroe played on, rubbing and clutching his side but never quitting.
Ranked No. 114, McEnroe isn't at the same level as Edberg, Becker and Lendl, but he's in the semifinals with them.
"It's unbelievable company to be in," he said.
"It sounds incredible," Becker said when learning he'd next play McEnroe. "I think immediately of the Great McEnroe."
The Great One stayed away this year with a strained shoulder. But Patrick came, and in his second Grand Slam singles tournament matched his brother's best here, a semifinal in 1983.
"He has shown he can play great tennis under pressure," Becker said.
Becker, though, may be far beyond McEnroe's reach at this point after playing nearly perfectly in beating tough, 10th-seeded Guy Forget, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3.
"He would have killed even Ivan or Stefan playing like this today," Forget said. "When he serves like this, and he goes for so many shots . . . there's not much you can do."
Becker acknowledged he was in top form, but "the only problem is I don't play like that every day."
Lendl-Edberg is the other semifinal, a rematch of last year's final, won by Lendl after Edberg retired with an injury. Lendl beat Goran Prpic, 6-0, 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-2), and Edberg beat Jaime Yzaga, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, in the semifinals.
No matter, it will be hard to beat the drama of McEnroe-Caratti. What it lacked in skill, it made up in spirit, as the two played their hearts out.