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U.S. OPEN : Sanchez Vicario Victorious : Tennis: After losing first set, 6-1, she scrambles back to beat top-seeded Graf and become first Spanish woman to win U.S. Open.

TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

Arantxa Sanchez Vicario hurried left and hurried right and scurried her way to the U.S. Open women’s singles championship here Saturday, tarnishing in the process Steffi Graf’s image of invincibility.

Sanchez Vicario became the first woman from Spain to win this title in its 108-year history. She did it with a 1-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 victory over No. 1-ranked-and-seeded Graf, the German player so dominant this year that she carried a 57-4 record and seven titles into Saturday’s match on a sold-out Stadium Court before 21,045.

The victory brought Sanchez Vicario her third Grand Slam title, adding to her 1989 and 1994 French Open championships. Graf, who keeps track of such things with a pocket calculator, missed making this her fourth title here and missed making her Grand Slam championship total a sweet 16.

Because Sanchez Vicario has won two Grand Slam events this year, to Graf’s one in the Australian Open, there has been much discussion that Sanchez Vicario deserves to be boosted a notch to No. 1 player, a status that the tour computer will accord to Graf even after Saturday’s result. But Sanchez Vicario, soothed by a $550,000 paycheck, didn’t seem to care much about that.

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“I think I am very proud what I did,” she said, in her delightful broken English, “and maybe you (in the press) can say better.”

She deserved to be proud of what she did, especially after Graf hit her like a freight train in a 22-minute first set. But Sanchez Vicario took it like a glancing blow and did as she always does--and says dozens of times in each of her postmatch interviews: “I just keep fighting, you know.”

After her opening-set blitz, Graf even went up a break at 2-1 and had a break point at 4-4. But one point after netting a service return to bring that game back to deuce, Graf chased down a wide forehand, netted it and stopped in the backcourt to bend over and touch her toes. Immediately, a buzz went through the crowd, since most tennis fans are aware that she has, despite her successful season, played the last few months with a bad back--and has been forced to wear a back brace the last four weeks.

When she lost that game, she asked for some painkillers, and said later that while her back pained her for two or three games, it wasn’t why she lost. “I don’t like to talk about my back when I lose,” she said.

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Graf fought off three break points in her next service game, then got herself into prime position to win the tiebreaker, having two serves at 3-2. But she missed two forehands for 3-4, then flew another long and netted yet another to bring the serve back to her at 3-6. With Sanchez Vicario holding three set points, Graf netted yet another forehand to, almost literally, hand the second set to Sanchez Vicario. After two sets, the player who has been noted for her powerful forehand, had made 18 unforced forehand errors.

In the third set, Sanchez Vicario, never needing much of a jump start anyway, really started to play like something hooked up to cables. She started hitting deeper, getting into the net on almost every short ball Graf offered and kept chasing down everything. She was a tennis roadrunner. Everywhere Graf hit it, Sanchez Vicario was. Beep beep.

Soon, a stunned Graf was serving at 4-5 and 15-40, and when her second serve sprayed way long for a costly and embarrassing double fault, all Sanchez Vicario had to do was serve it out. Two break points and two match points later, she kicked in a 74-m.p.h. first serve, and Graf floated a backhand return long to end it.

“I saw the ball, you know, going out, and I said, ‘Well, I did it,’ ” Sanchez Vicario said. “I just, you know, threw the racket and looked upstairs and said thank you. I was real excited and now my dream come real.”

Sanchez Vicario, whose brothers Emilio and Javier are also pro tennis players, travels with her mother and two dogs. Afterward, she didn’t comment on how her dogs reacted to her great moment in the tennis limelight, but she said her mother was among the first to greet her, and the meeting was highly emotional.

Sanchez Vicario said: “She didn’t have words. Same as me.”

Nor, Sanchez Vicario said, was she able to say much when they handed her the $550,000 check.

“I couldn’t, you know, hold my surprise,” she said. “My face was kind of ‘Wow!’ ”

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After her press interview, she scurried back out to play a women’s doubles semifinal, in which she and Jana Novotna won their way into today’s final and a shot at splitting $200,000. Then she hurried back to the hotel to see her dogs, whose names, most likely, are Hustle and Bustle.


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