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Saturday, June 5, 1999 Published at 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK

Sport: Tennis

Graf grabs the glory

Steffi Graf: "I absolutely cannot believe I won"

Steffi Graf staged one of the great comebacks of her career to beat teenager Martina Hingis in three drama-charged sets, to take the French Open women's singles title for a sixth time on Saturday.

BBC Tennis Correspondent Iain Carter reports on the match
Graf, who turns 30 in a few days, beat top-seeded Hingis 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in 2hr 25min after being within three points of defeat at the end of the second set.

It was the German veteran's 22nd Grand Slam title, leaving her just two short of the all-time record held by Australian Margaret Court.

[ image: Martina Hingis: Deducted a point for numerous outbursts]
Martina Hingis: Deducted a point for numerous outbursts
Graf was playing in her first Grand Slam final since 1996 - and she turned back the clock to her glory days after two years in which she has been plagued by injuries.

"This feels amazing," she told the crowd. "I have to thank you all. I feel French. I've played all around the globe but I've never had a crowd like that ever."

Playing at Roland Garros for the 16th time, Graf was a huge crowd favourite as a testy Hingis was given a warning and later a point penalty for disputing a line call.

The 18-year-old Swiss player sobbed wildly after her loss and had to be comforted by her mother and coach Melanie Molitor, although she soon recovered both her composure and smile.

"It was a very close match and I want to tell Martina she is going to have so many more chances to win. 'Don't worry about it'," Graf said.

History beckons

Graf - who first won here in 1987 - became the first player in the Open era to beat the top three players in the world at the same event and only Chris Evert, with seven, has won more French titles.

Steffi Graf: "I can't believe it"
"This is the most important memory I'm ever going to have in my tennis career," Graf said.

Hingis had been bidding for the sixth Grand Slam title of her career and the only Slam title to have eluded her - and she served for the match at 5-4 in the second set before Graf launched her remarkable recovery.

"I want to congratulate Steffi after a very good match," Hingis said in French. "She's a great champion but I hope I can win next year.

"I was three points away today and you don't like to lose like that - but maybe next time."

Hingis takes the lead

The young Swiss player got off to a flying start, breaking Graf in the first game and then holding for 2-0.

The German, who had a far tougher route to the final, got back to 2-2 but Hingis then pulled away by winning three straight games, including two breaks of serve.

[ image: Graf fell behind after a strong start from Hingis]
Graf fell behind after a strong start from Hingis
Hingis kept the ball deep, using power inconsistent with her slim frame.

Although Graf did get back to 4-5, Hingis served out for the set - sealing it on her fourth set point.

Hingis moved into a 2-0 lead in the second set, but then become involved in a long dispute over a shot she believed was good - and was called out.

Hingis, dubbed "the smiling assassin" for her toughness, was given a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after she went to the other side of the net to point out where she thought the ball had landed - and then demanded the tournament referee be called.

Graf held that game for 1-2 but Hingis held for 3-1 as Graf began to make some uncharacteristic backhand errors and Hingis took every opportunity to take the ball early and dictate the points.

Fightback begins

The German, whose mother and father were both in the crowd, called on every ounce of her experience as she fought back to lead 4-3.

Hingis was jeered when she smashed a ball courtwards when Graf had break point for 5-3 but the Swiss player held for 4-4 after one particularly memorable rally which ended with Graf missing the simplest of smashes.

Hingis broke Graf for 5-4 and then served for the match - but was broken to 30 after a tired and unwise drop shot.

Graf, suddenly cool and collected, held to love and then broke Hingis to 15 for the set as the teenager began to unravel.

Graf took a 1-0 lead in the decider before both women took a break - Hingis only returning to the court from the locker room in the nick of time - and to more boos from the crowd.

Graf promptly broke to 2-0 and held for 3-0 - her sixth straight game - after winning 10 points in succession.

Hingis appeared close to tears but she regained her composure and broke back to 2-3, only to again drop her own serve after a brilliant sliced backhand from Graf.

Graf moved into a 5-2 lead and Hingis again earned the ire of the crowd with an underarm serve to save match point that caught Graf unawares.

Graf earned a second championship point with a drop shot and sealed the win when Hingis sent a backhand long.

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