Originally created 06/05/99

Hingis' first French Open title in jeopardy



PARIS -- Pressure? What pressure? For Steffi Graf, Saturday's French Open women's final is just another tennis match.

Although she is playing for a Grand Slam title for the first time in almost three years, Graf has won this clay-court championship five times before.

"I obviously feel that I don't have to prove anything," Graf said. "I don't have the feeling that I have to win."

That's not the case for her 18-year-old and No. 1-ranked opponent, Martina Hingis.

She is determined to win at Roland Garros and become only the ninth woman -- and the first since Graf -- to triumph at each Grand Slam singles stop.

It should be a tight final, a clash of generations if not of styles. Both Graf and Hingis are big hitters.

But, while Hingis doesn't have any clear weaknesses, Graf -- in her first Grand Slam final since the 1996 U.S. Open -- will look to take advantage of her greater athletic ability and speed, and attack the Swiss player's unexceptional serve.

Hingis will be wary of Graf's renowned forehand. But the 29-year-old German's tendency to run around her backhand could leave her out of position -- and exposed to Hingis' accurate ground strokes.

Hingis, who has won seven Grand Slam doubles titles, is happier at the net.

"Steffi has a powerful baseline game," Hingis said. And in addition to Graf's forehand, "her slice backhand is very deep and low. You can't do much out of it."

Graf, holder of 21 Grand Slam titles, is 6-2 against Hingis lifetime, but Hingis won their only previous match on clay -- in the 1996 Italian Open -- and their most recent meeting -- this year at the Pan Pacific.

After terrible luck with injuries, Graf is storming back.

A win against Hingis would leave her one shy of Chris Evert's record of seven French Open singles titles. She already has equaled Evert's record of nine finals appearances.

Graf will move to No. 3 in the rankings next week, her best placing for more than two years.

And if she beats Hingis, Graf would be the first woman in open history to defeat the top three players in the same event, already eliminating second-seeded Lindsay Davenport and No. 3 Monica Seles.

Hingis, looking to add to her fifth Grand Slam win in Australia this year, has had a much easier route to the final, facing only one seeded player, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in the semifinals.

Still, she has been in outstanding form here, not dropping a set so far, and is eager to overcome the disappointment of her surprise French Open final defeat two years ago to Iva Majoli.

Hingis admits that she underestimated Majoli in that match.

"I have learned to play smarter now," she said. "The last two or three years I felt worse. Now I am feeling better. That is the difference."

Hingis added that she is happier facing Graf than Seles, and hopes that the German will have stage fright on Saturday.

"With her absence in the last two years I hope she will be a little bit nervous," Hingis said.

Graf's reply? "I won't."



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