Sanchez Vicario keeps women's upsets coming Graf is eliminated in quarterfinals

NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- This is for all those who say that women's tennis is dull, that upsets come about as often as leap years, that the Grand Slam semifinals are nothing more than clubby, chummy get-togethers involving Gaby and Steffi and Monica and Martina.

The party has been crashed.


Yesterday, another seed came tumbling out of the draw.

Say goodbye to Steffi Graf.


The No. 2 seed, the reigning Wimbledon champion, the player whose career was literally launched on the hard courts of Flushing Meadow, was beaten by No. 5 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.

Graf joins No. 3 Martina Navratilova, No. 4 Gabriela Sabatini and No. 6 Jennifer Capriati as millionaire spectators for the semifinals.

Oh, and add another Maleeva sister to the eliminated list.

No. 9 Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere beat her youngest sister, Magdalena Maleeva, 6-2, 5-3, retired, in a match that was as excruciating to watch as it must have been to play.

No matter.

Tomorrow's final four is set: Sanchez Vicario vs. Maleeva-Fragniere and No. 7 Mary Joe Fernandez vs. No. 1 Seles, the reigning champion who avoided the upset specials despite a virus, sore throat and high temperature.

Graf wasn't as lucky, failing to reach the Open semifinals for the first time since 1984. Back then, Ronald Reagan was serving out his first term in the White House, Michael Jordan was an Olympian playing for a country, not a shoe company, and Graf was 15.

Yesterday, Graf not only had no excuses for her loss, she also couldn't come up with any answers.


Sitting in the interview room, her shoulders slumped, her face turned away from the microphones, Graf quietly said: "I definitely made some wrong choices. I realized that I just couldn't do anything."

While other players continue to expand their games, Graf's contracts. She is still bringing out the same old weapons, her topspin forehand and her ability to cover the baseline. But her chip backhand remains vulnerable to attack.

Sanchez Vicario, 2-15 lifetime vs. Graf, pressured Graf's backhand, actually charged the net, and simply remained firmer on the big points.

It was Graf who double-faulted during the first-set tiebreaker. It was Graf who pushed two forehands wide to lose the set. And it was Graf, despite fighting off three match points, who finally buckled, punching a pair of forehand returns into the net as Sanchez Vicario danced away in triumph.

"I think I played really well and I was consistent," Sanchez Vicario said. "I knew that I had to be aggressive, because if I wasn't, she would take advantage with her forehand."

Sanchez Vicario wasn't just aggressive. She covered every inch of the court, emerging as the women's equivalent of Michael Chang. When the weather is hot, when your game is shaky, Sanchez Vicario is the last player you want to go up against.


Graf wasn't confident heading into the Open. She lost to Capriati on clay in the gold-medal match at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Then she took time off the tour to rebuild her game and give her aching right shoulder a rest. Despite saying over and over that she was healthy, clearly, something was amiss with Graf during the Open.

"You can play great, and then, you can play bad for a few days," Graf said. "And then, things don't get together. That is what happened. Next time it will be all right."

Still, Graf is no longer the player who once dominated women's tennis, who ran through a Grand Slam with booming forehands that matched her soaring confidence.

On the big points, she now plays without a clue. "I really didn't know what to do," she said.

The battle of the Maleevas was called on account of injury, 17-year-old Magdalena limping off the court with a strained left thigh muscle.

But the surprise came later, when, during an interview, Magdalena was asked how she prepared for the match.


She turned to her sister and said: "I warmed up with her husband. Now that he is married, he needs a girlfriend."

The sisters laughed.

Actually, the match was painful. Not just for the players but for their mother, Yulia Beberian, who refused to watch.

Manuela, accustomed to defeating her younger sister, Katerina, said it was even harder to beat the baby of the family. But she did, pressing on to her first Grand Slam semifinal.

"It's not the way I imagined it would happen," Manuela said. "I imagined jumping on the court with joy and happiness. It was impossible to do that. I'm happy I'm in the semifinals. But I'm sad my sister lost."

But Manuela shouldn't feel too sorry for Magdalena. Asked who would win the next time they played, Magdalena said: "I'm telling you, I will beat her."


She was not smiling.

Tough business, this women's tennis.