In 1990, two talented 20-year-olds burned a path to the French Open finals. Each lost, but they were gifted and on a roll.
Nine years later, neither Andre Agassi nor Steffi Graf is so carefree. Graf has battled major injuries and the pain of her father's conviction on tax evasion charges; Agassi's career has been volatile. But while so much has changed, the scene at Roland Garros took a nostalgic turn today when both Agassi and Graf advanced to the semifinals in sharp form. Agassi ripped through Uruguayan Marcelo Filippini, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0, while the sixth-seeded Graf put away No. 2 seed Lindsay Davenport, 6-1, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3.
"He sure played a hell of a game of tennis, you know -- he killed me on the court," said Filippini, who was battling a strained abdominal muscle. "He was putting very much speed on the ball, so I was really too slow. . . . I had no chance."
Defending champion Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario of Spain also advanced, soundly defeating Austrian Sylvia Plischke, 6-2, 6-4. She will face Martina Hingis in the semifinals after Hingis's 6-2, 6-2 drubbing of Austrian Barbara Schwartz, the qualifier who ousted Venus Williams on Sunday. Monica Seles will face Graf after winning her quarterfinal match today, 6-1, 6-4, over Spain's Conchita Martinez.
It was Seles who defeated Graf to take that French Open title in 1990, and Thursday's semifinal promises to be yet another of their memorable matches. But while Seles's advancement today was virtually ensured -- she held a 15-1 record against Martinez going into the match -- Graf's chances were far less certain.
Ranked No. 2 in the world, Davenport had been playing relatively well here, defeating Jennifer Capriati on Sunday. She has always had trouble on clay, however, and looked uncomfortable from the moment she took the court. After holding her first service game she dropped the next five games to give Graf the first set in just 23 minutes. Her face flushed with frustration, Davenport knocked her racket against her shoes, loosening the red powder she finds so distasteful.
"I really don't like the stuff," Davenport said. "I don't move great anyway, and on clay it makes it worse. I don't like anything about it. It slows everything down. It's slippery. I like to have footing."
Davenport fared better in the second set, breaking Graf in the sixth game to go up 4-2. While Graf was able to break back, Davenport eventually took the tiebreaker.
She and Graf then stayed on serve through the first three games of the third set, but when Graf broke to go up 3-1, Davenport was never able to recover. After Graf went up 5-1, Davenport stretched the set to 5-3, but couldn't win the final game despite fending off four match points before sending a forehand long. Graf, who had not reached a Grand Slam semifinal since winning the U.S. Open in 1996, shook one fist into the air before going to shake Davenport's hand at the net.
"I just could not win a point at deuce, and that killed me," Davenport said. "I was just trying to slowly get back in the match. I started to, but I really needed to win that game."
The crowd at Court Suzanne Lenglen, which had been boisterously cheering throughout the match, rewarded Graf with a song after the clapping died down. The fans here have been rooting for the veterans throughout the tournament, cheering such players as Graf, Seles and Sanchez-Vicario while reacting coolly to younger players such as Williams, her sister Serena and Russia's Anna Kournikova.
Of the remaining field on the men's side, Agassi is clearly the crowd favorite, a sentiment Filippini fought most of the afternoon. Fans booed him at key points in today's match, although he said it was his aching stomach muscles, not the jeers, that almost forced him to retire midway through the second set. He stayed in the match but had no success against Agassi, who has been battling shoulder problems of his own.
The victory was yet another step in Agassi's quest to win the one Grand Slam title he doesn't own, and he got some help toward that goal today when Slovakia's Dominik Hrbaty ousted ninth-seeded Marcelo Rios of Chile -- the last seeded player in the bracket -- with a 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-7 (8-6), 6-3 upset victory. With the crowd behind him, Agassi will have a psychological advantage over Hrbaty in the semifinals, although Hrbaty defeated Agassi in their one previous meeting, a three-set match in Key Biscayne, Fla.
"I'm not too concerned with that result," said Agassi, who was recovering from a hamstring injury at the time. "I mean we're both playing a lot better than we did then. I'm anticipating a very brutal match. It wouldn't be right if it wasn't that way."
When: Through Sunday.
Where: Roland Garros, Paris.
Defending Champions: Carlos Moya and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.
Today's TV: 9 a.m., USA.
Yesterday's Key Results: Men's Singles, Quarterfinals -- Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia, def. Marcelo Rios (9), Chile, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-7 (8-6), 6-3; Andre Agassi (13), Las Vegas, def. Marcelo Filippini, Uruguay, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0. Women's Singles, Quarterfinals -- Martina Hingis (1), Switzerland, def. Barbara Schwartz, Austria, 6-2, 6-2; Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (7), Spain, def. Sylvia Plischke, Austria, 6-2, 6-4; Steffi Graf (6), Germany, def. Lindsay Davenport (2), Newport Beach, Calif., 6-1, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3; Monica Seles (3), Sarasota, Fla., def. Conchita Martinez, Spain, 6-1, 6-4.
Today's Featured Matches: Men's Singles, Quarterfinals -- Gustavo Kuerten (8), Brazil, vs. Andrei Medvedev, Ukraine; Alex Corretja (6), Spain, vs. Fernando Meligeni, Brazil. Women's Doubles, Quarterfinals -- Jana Novotna, Czech Republic, and Natasha Zvereva (1), Belarus, vs. Lindsay Davenport, Newport Beach, Calif., and Mary Pierce (12), France; Serena Williams and Venus Williams (9), Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., vs. Els Callens, Belgium, and Rita Grande, Italy; Larisa Neiland, Latvia, and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (7), Spain, vs. Martina Hingis, Switzerland, and Anna Kournikova (2), Russia.
Remaining Women's Singles Schedule: Semifinals, Thursday, Martina Hingis vs. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario; Monica Seles vs. Steffi Graf. Final, Saturday.
Remaining Men's Singles Schedule: Semifinals, Friday, Andre Agassi vs. Dominik Hrbaty; Corretja-Meligeni winner vs. Kuerten-Medvedev winner. Final, Sunday.
CAPTION: Andre Agassi will face Dominik Hrbaty after 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 win over Marcelo Filippini. "He sure played a hell of a game of tennis," Filippini said of Agassi.
CAPTION: Steffi Graf, relishing 6-1, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3 victory over No. 2 Lindsay Davenport, will face Monica Seles.
CAPTION: Lindsay Davenport hits backhand in quarterfinal match against Steffi Graf, who had not reached a Grand Slam semifinal since winning U.S. Open in '96.