WIMBLEDON : Seles Quiets Navratilova : Women: Complaints about her grunting don’t stop her from reaching final against Graf, who easily beats Sabatini.
At least we know where Monica Seles is this year during Wimbledon.
She’s the one out there on Centre Court, slapping balls past Martina Navratilova, shorting out Gruntometers and dropping in for the final of the most famous tennis tournament in the world.
Last year at this time, Seles was dropping out of sight.
But on a dank, gray Thursday she made it, noisily as usual, to her first Wimbledon final with a 6-2, 6-7 (7-3), 6-4 semifinal victory over Navratilova.
The match? It was a scream.
Navratilova complained twice to the chair umpire about the noise coming from Seles, but it didn’t prevent Seles from continuing her quest to add a Wimbledon trophy to the ones she has won in the Australian and French Opens.
Seles is clearly within grunting distance of the Grand Slam.
Steffi Graf, the last Grand Slam winner four years ago, placed herself squarely in Seles’ path by scoring a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Gabriela Sabatini in a match that was as uneventful and routine as Seles-Navratilova was wild and wacky.
Graf proved to have a superior serve in a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon final, which she also won.
Last year, Seles skipped the tournament because of an injury that she didn’t explain for weeks, causing an uproar.
All that is forgotten now, thanks to another uproar, a lively issue involving the sound Seles makes when she hits her shots.
For lack of a better word, it is called grunting, although it’s more like shrieking. It comes pretty close to the noise a person makes when his hair gets yanked.
At least two of the London tabloids have used hand-held electronic devices, called Gruntometers, to measure the level of sound produced by Seles. That was bad enough, but then Nathalie Tauziat played Seles in the quarterfinals and complained to the chair umpire, elevating the grunting issue to a new plateau.
Navratilova did not complain until she had lost the first set and eight of the first 12 games.
“I am not the first person who brought it up, and I am certainly not the last one,” she said.
Navratilova reacted angrily when she was asked why she chose such an occasion to make an issue of Seles’ noises when they had played 11 other times without complaint by Navratilova.
“Are you putting me on the defensive here?” she said. “I am not saying I lost because of her grunting.
“Am I on trial here or is grunting on trial? . . . I want to see what that guy writes tomorrow. Unbelievable.”
The match, especially the third set, was as rollicking as the news conference.
Seles won the first set in 27 minutes, and Navratilova won the second on an expertly played tiebreaker.
No one held serve the last five games, which is about as odd as it gets on grass.
Everything appeared normal in the third set with Seles leading, 3-2. Then she broke Navratilova for 4-2.
With Navratilova down a game point when Seles hit a meteor of a backhand into the corner, Navratilova turned to Fran McDowell, the chair umpire, and raised both palms, indicating that she was bothered by Seles’ grunting.
Seles immediately double-faulted, then lost the game.
She traded breaks with Navratilova, but was still ahead, 5-4, when Navratilova served to stay in the match. Navratilova saved one match point with a high volley winner into the open court.
But at deuce, Seles came up with a good forehand return and Navratilova popped a volley long for match point No. 2. Given a second chance, Seles stroked a backhand passing shot down the line to end it.
The match lasted 1 hour 54 minutes, which is about how long Seles needed to defend herself afterward on the grunting issue.
“It’s just here. . . . Now it came like a pretty big issue here,” she said. “But I said millions of times, I’m not doing it on purpose and . . . after this tournament I’m going to practice to get rid of it, because I really don’t want to answer questions about it anymore.”
So Seles moved on to her sixth consecutive Grand Slam final. She has won the five others.
And her skipping Wimbledon last year? It’s an omission that now seems fairly true to form. She couldn’t do that quietly either.