1990 US Open: Linda Ferrando upsets Monica Seles
Extract from Hard Courts by John Feinstein
Almost without fail, the shocking upsets during the first week of a Grand Slam take place on the men’s side. The top women are just too strong to lose an early round match.
The Open began exactly that way: Monica Seles, playing the first match of the tournament, started with a 6-0 6-0 victory over Elena Pampoulova. Steffi Graf dropped two games in her first match; Martina Navratilova dropped four; Zina Garrison, four; and Gabriela Sabatini, two. By the end of the first week, though, the women had the kind of delightful chaos on their hands that’s usually reserved for the men. The first to fall, in what may have been the single most stunning upset of the year in the women’s game, was Seles.
There had been some hints that Seles might be vulnerable. She had shown up in Los Angeles wielding a Yonex racquet, part of a huge multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal she had signed with the company after Wimbledon. This was all well and good, but Yonex had insisted, as part of the deal, that Seles use the racquet at the Open.
Seles had been playing with a Prince – with pretty fair results – and to ask her to change racquets two weeks before a Grand Slam was a mistake. But Yonex wanted to make a splashy pre-Open announcement, and IMG ans Seles’ army of advisers didn’t want to chance losing the deal.
So, they chanced losing the Open. Seles had won Los Angeles, beating Navratilova in a wonderful final. But it had been clear there that she wasn’t hitting the ball with the same authority as in Europe. She was still plenty good and would no doubt get better as she grew accustomed to the racquet, but a lot of people wondered if it would affect her at the Open.
It did. Seles lost in the third round to Linda Ferrando, a twenty-four year old Italian ranked eighty-second in the world – seven spots below Elena Pampoulova. Seles had practiced with Ferrando earlier in the year, in Chicago, but had completely forgotten the session. She expected her to stay back.
Ferrando, after dropping the first set 6-1, began attacking on almost every point. She won the second set 6-1 and led throughout the third. She even had three match points but couldn’t convert them, making choky errors on each one. It looked as if Seles would escape when they went to a tiebreak in the final set. Only, she didn’t.
Ferrando jumped ahead in the tiebreak, and when she got to match point again, she made sure she didn’t choke. She charged in behind a backhand return, and Seles, trying to hit a perfect shot, smacked a backhand into the net tape. She let out a tiny shriek of surprise and anguish, then dealt with the defeat graciously.
“I never thought she would come back after I won the first set 6-1,” she said. “I think I just got nervous at the end.”
Ferrando was still in a little bit of shock.
“I can’t tell you why I won,” she said. “Maybe I can tell you tomorrow.”
In tennis, you have to come up with the answer today because, by tomorrow, you may be forgotten. Ferrando was a case in point: two days after beating Seles, she lost in straight sets to Leila Meshki.