What started as a typical French Open final between Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis turned into a bizarre and emotional 2 1/2-hour ride at Roland Garros today. It ended with Graf displaying her first Grand Slam trophy in three years, Hingis storming off the court before being brought back by her mother and with both women crying.
Hingis served for the match in the second set, but could not convert. She then spiraled into self-destruction, leaving Graf to grab a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory. It was Graf's sixth French Open title -- and because she wants to make this her final memory of Roland Garros, she also said it will be her last.
"This is the most incredible memory I'm ever going to have looking back on my tennis career -- this is amazing," said Graf, who claimed her 22nd Grand Slam title, two short of Margaret Court's record, after almost retiring a year ago because of injuries. "Even during the match, sometimes I didn't really believe I could do it, but somehow I did it. This is the biggest win I've ever had, for sure. And it had everything. This is one of the craziest matches ever."
Graf's victory followed a men's singles semifinal victory by Andre Agassi, whose match against Dominik Hrbaty had been halted by rain in the middle of the fourth set Friday. After letting the match slip a bit on Friday, Agassi appeared determined today, taking just 23 minutes to complete a 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-4 victory and advance to Sunday's final against Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev.
Agassi will be trying to become the first man in 30 years to win all four Grand Slam titles in his career -- he holds one title from each of the others -- but he will have to work hard Sunday to create more drama on Court Central than the women's final did today.
Boos and whistles rained on Hingis with increasing frequency as the boisterous crowd grew upset with behavior that included crossing the net to dispute a line call, taking an extended bathroom break at a key point in the match and serving underhanded on Graf's championship point. Umpire Anne Lasserre issued Hingis two warnings and penalized her a point, leaving her one step from default.
Hingis responded with bursts of anger and anguish, several times burying her head in a towel to wipe away tears.
"The public was against me already in this tournament, so I was kind of used to that situation," she said. "It's probably too hard to understand me, the way I am, the way I play, because it just looks too easy to everybody."
Hingis didn't appear bothered by the crowd's support of Graf as she rolled through the first set and went ahead 2-0 in the second. But when a ball she thought was in was called out on the first point of the third game, Hingis became overwrought, crossing to Graf's side of the court to point out a mark in the clay to the umpire. She not only lost the argument, she was penalized a point for leaving her side of the court; she had already been issued a warning for throwing her racket.
Graf later broke Hingis's serve to tie the set at 3, but Hingis still looked in control of the match when she broke Graf to go ahead 5-4. She couldn't win the match on her serve, however, and when Graf won the set by breaking her serve on an unforced error, she began falling apart. After the match, Hingis acknowledged just how badly she wanted this tournament, the only Grand Slam event she hasn't won, and remarked that she had picked a dress to wear in photos with the trophy. Hingis, 18, also seemed particularly determined not to lose a major match to Graf, having once said "her time has passed."
"It's a game out there, and sometimes I felt it was more than that for her," Graf, nine days shy of her 30th birthday, said. "That's what I didn't really understand, because I mean, she has everything going for her. There will be other times."
As for Hingis's behavior and comments, Graf said: "You have to be respectful of your opponent, and sometimes she hasn't been. It is something she really should take a closer look at because we're all out there, trying hard."
Hingis tried to change the match's momentum by taking a bathroom break after losing the first game of the third set. Graf used the opportunity to take one as well, but she returned to the court first. Then, when Hingis took some extra time, the crowd further turned on her. And the break didn't help Hingis's concentration. She lost 10 consecutive points after returning to the court and found herself serving to stay in the match with Graf having built a 5-2 lead.
Desperate, on match point she sent a spinning underhand serve onto Graf's side of the court. The technique usually is reserved for players who have strained a muscle and was considered unsportsmanlike by the crowd, but it did earn Hingis the point. It did not work the second time Hingis tried it, however, and the match ended shortly afterward, when her cross-court backhand went long.
After the match, Hingis stormed off the court with her rackets, deciding the crowd would only boo her if she remained for the trophy ceremony. She was crying by the time her mother, Melanie Molitor, brought her back onto the court. Graf was crying as well, although for a different reason. She said she decided after the match that this will be her last French Open, and that she will decide tournament-by-tournament where else she will play. She already has committed to play at Wimbledon later this month.
"The experience I've had here -- I've never had anything like it," Graf said, her words speedily tumbling from an adrenaline-and-champagne bliss. "I know this chance only comes around so many times, and I just want to keep it the way it is. I mean, I think it's pretty amazing."
CAPTION: In perhaps her final French Open, Steffi Graf celebrates "the biggest win I've ever had."
CAPTION: Steffi Graf exults after winning her first major in three years. Later, she said it was her final French Open.