PARIS -- Maybe they will close their eyes and play it from memory. Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, last year's French Open finalists and veterans of 34 tugs-of-war against each other, asserted their dominance yesterday with straight-set semifinal victories.
They not only beat the heat, which transformed Center Court into an acrid desert scape, but they also beat challengers who complained of feeling flat on a day when having an edge was mandatory.
Sanchez Vicario, a two-time French Open champion, reached her fifth final at her favorite Grand Slam at the expense of 10th-seeded Jana Novotna, 6-3, 7-5.
The Czech didn't come close to playing like the predator who upset Monica Seles in the quarterfinals. Novotna committed eight double faults and 42 unforced errors against the fourth-seeded Spaniard.
"I control it very good," Sanchez Vicario said of the 1-hour, 37-minute semifinal that gave her a fifth consecutive victory against her doubles partner.
Novotna said: "We are both very professional to handle this. It is a bit hard. It's not as friendly."
But it's not exactly unfriendly. Graf shared a sofa with her prospective victim yesterday as they watched the first semifinal together in the locker room.
Then Graf, the defending champion of the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, improved her career record against third-seeded Conchita Martinez to 13-1 with an expedient 6-3, 6-1 win in 67 minutes.
This is the eighth French Open final for the 26-year-old German, who has captured four of her 18 Grand Slam singles titles here.
"I don't think it's a mental problem," Martinez said about her streak of futility against Graf, who also beat her here in last year's semifinals.
NOTES: In the men's semifinals today, top-seeded Pete Sampras, a winner of every Grand Slam event except this one, takes his serve-and-volley dynamics and 4-1 record against Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov. The other semifinal features two more serving specialists: 14th-seeded Marc Rosset, of Switzerland, who has reached his first slam semifinal, and 15th-seeded Michael Stich, of Germany, an all-court player.
Men's doubles, semifinals
Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Russia, and Daniel Vacek (7), Czech DTC Republic, def. Jared Palmer, Tampa, Fla., and Jonathan Stark, Seattle, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4). Guy Forget, France, and Jakob Hlasek (5), Switzerland, def. Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde (1), Australia, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
Women's singles, semifinals
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (4), Spain, def. Jana Novotna (10), Czech Republic, 6-3, 7-5.Steffi Graf (1), Germany, def. Conchita Martinez (3), Spain, 6-3, 6-1.
Mixed doubles, semifinal
Patricia Tarabini and Javier Frana, Argentina, def. Manon Bollegraf, Netherlands, and Rick Leach (3), Laguna Beach, Calif., 6-2, 7-6 (7-2).
Pub Date: 6/07/96