PARIS — The scenario is as familiar as the outcome is foregone: Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the final of a Grand Slam tournament. The two met here in last year's final. A month later, they played in the final at Wimbledon, a match many consider one of the classics of women's tennis. Graf won both times.
They meet again today, for the 35th time in their careers, in the final of the French Open. Graf, seeded first, has not lost a set in this tournament and, as is usually the case with top players at a two-week event, she has been playing better and better.
So has fourth-seeded Sanchez Vicario, but she has yet to play anyone of Graf's caliber. By any statistical measure, Graf owns Sanchez Vicario. Graf leads the head to head, 26-8, she leads on clay, 12-4, she leads in finals, 17-6, and she leads in finals on clay, 7-3.
Worse yet for Sanchez Vicario, the physically fragile Graf says she feels great.
"I've been really happy the way I've been feeling," Graf said. "I think that's what has given me the most pleasure, because I haven't really felt physically that well in some time. That's been great. I've played six matches, and I can't ask for much better tennis than these six matches."
If, as expected, the weather remains dry and hot and the playing surface fast, Graf might gain more of an edge.
"It's really difficult to tell because she's been playing a bit more aggressive than she used to," Graf said. "So she's not having that many problems with the faster surface. Sometimes points go too quickly. It's going to be difficult to tell. Could favor me, but it also could go the other way."
Sanchez Vicario, as usual, is feeling overlooked here after nearly two weeks of Mary Pierce, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati dominating the news.
"I'm very happy with my success," she said. "Not many people were giving me too much credit and thinking that I would be able to make the final, but here I am. I'm playing well, with confidence. Now, anything can happen. It could go either way, but I'm here and I'm very proud and very happy."