Steffi Graf won her sixth French Open title and her first Grand Slam championship in almost three years today, then said it was the last time she'd play on the red clay of Paris.
Riding the cheers of the crowd, Graf scored a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over top-ranked and tantrum-throwing Martina Hingis, who served for the match in the second set but could not finish it off.
"This is the biggest win I've ever had," said Graf, who hopped for joy when Hingis' final forehand sailed long. "This is by far the most unexpected."
Plagued by a string of injuries in recent years, Graf who will be 30 in two weeks said she would not play again in the event that she first won 12 years ago. Graf falls one victory shy of the record seven French Open singles titles of Chris Evert.
"This was my last French Open," Graf said, making a surprise announcement. "This is definitely the last time I played here. This memory should be the way it is. It's very special."
She would not say if this was her last year on the tour. "I'm taking it tournament by tournament, match by match," she said.
Graf played 16 of the last 17 French Opens, the most by any player since the pro era began in 1968.
Hingis served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but could not hang on, and the Roland Garros crowd jeered and whistled as the 18-year-old from Switzerland repeatedly battled with the umpire and linesmen.
"I absolutely cannot believe I won the tournament," Graf said. "It's amazing. This is the most incredible memory I will have when I look back on my career."
|Steffi Graf says this was her last French Open. (AP)|
The victory was worth $579,081 for Graf, who will move up to No. 3 in the world, the highest she has been since losing the No. 1 spot two years ago.
It also made Graf the first woman in the open era to beat the top three players in the world at the same event. On her way to the final, Graf beat No. 2 Lindsay Davenport and No. 3 Monica Seles.
Earlier, Andre Agassi reached the French final for the third time when he completed a 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-4 victory over Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia in a match halted by rain Friday.
Agassi will try to become just the fifth man to win all four Grand Slam singles titles when he meets 100th-ranked Andrei Medvedev on Sunday.
The women's final was filled with arguments and trips to the umpire's chair.
Hingis, who lost her second French Open final in three year, received a warning and was penalized a point for several outbursts, and was frequently booed by the center court ans.
Graf, playing her first Grand Slam final since winning the French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1996, had all the sympathy on her side.
"Steffi, Steffi," the crowd chanted as the German kept coming back.
Graf captured0t(m 22nd Grand Slam title of her career against the Swiss star who dislodged her from the No. 1 ranking in March 1997.
Hingis was seeking the only Grand Slam title still missing in her collection, but she ran into a highly motivated Graf.
Hingis broke into tears after the match and walked off the court after shaking Graf's hand, to the jeers and whistles of the French crowd. She returned, still in tears and sobbing in the arms of her mother, Melanie Molitor.
Graf thanked the crowd for its support.
"I feel French," she said. "I've played all over the world, but I've never had a crowd like this."
She also tried to console Hingis.
"You'll have so many more chances to win, so don't worry about it," Graf said, before she also broke into tears. But they were tears of joy, as the crowd gave her another standing ovation.
Hingis recovered to address the crowd as well.
"Perhaps I can win next year, and maybe I'll have the crowd on my side," mixing English and French.
That got her some applause as well.
"I was three points away, you don't like to lose like that," Hingis said.
Hingis got a warning in the third game for smashing her racket to the ground and breaking it. She was penalized a point in the second after questioning a call and walking over to Graf's side of the court.
Hingis, who ended Graf's record 377-week reign as No. 1, asked for the umpire to come down and show her the mark. The call stood. Hingis then walked to Graf's side of the net to point at what she thought was a mark inside the court. The call still stood.
Hingis, up 2-0 in the set, then sat in her chair and asked for the supervisor. There was no change in the call and Hingis was penalized a point for a court violation, giving graf a 30-0 lead in a game she won for 2-1.
There was more arguing in the next game, with Graf getting a call against her reversed. Knowing that another outburst could cause her to be defaulted, Hingis stayed calm and blasted a passing shot to take a 3-1 lead.
The crowd was again loudly behind Graf as she broke back in the sixth game, hitting a forehand to the corner that Hingis could not get back over the net. Graf held serve for 4-3 before one of the most exhilarating points of the match.
Graf and Hingis exchanged a spectacular array of drop shots and lobs that ended with Graf firing a simple smash into the net, and Hingis pulled even at 4-4.
A backhand winner put Hingis a break up and let her serve for the match, but she quickly faced double-break point. She saved one but netted a drop-shot attempt and Graf was back at 5-5. Graf won the next game at love and brke Hingis again to win the set.
Graf took the first game of the third before both players took a break. Hingis came out much later, with a new outfit and a new hair style, drawing more boos and whistles.
With Hingis looking dispirited, Graf whipped to a 3-0 lead. She dropped her serve in the fifth game, but broke right back to end any hopes Hingis might have had of coming back.
Trailing 5-2 and serving to stay in the match, Hingis faced match point. She hit an underhanded serve, stunning Graf, and saved the point before netting a drop shot. Graf then converted her second match point for the victory.