Graf to play Henin in show match for charity
Former number one Steffi Graf is to play the current women's top player Justine Henin in an exhibition match in Germany next month for a children's charity foundation.
Graf, 38, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in an exclusive interview that Henin had immediately agreed to the showcase match in Mannheim on October 27.
The 22-times Grand Slam winner's rare return to the court is to help the Children for Tomorrow foundation she formed nine years ago to support children and families in Africa who have been traumatised by war, violence or repression.
Graf retired from tennis eight years ago, but the German played a similar charity exhibition match in Mannheim against Argentina's Gabriela Sabatini two years ago.
Graf won that encounter 6-4, 6-2, but said it would be "ridiculous" to think about beating 25-year-old US and French Open winner Henin.
"I haven't played any tournament tennis for eight years. Sure, I've tried to keep myself fit but playing tennis is different to going jogging, cycling or training with weights."
Graf said she had now started playing some more tennis to get in better shape for the event, but finding time for the court was difficult in her daily schedule with husband Andre Agassi and their children Jaz Elle, three, and Jaden Gil, five.
"If I've had a racquet in my hand eight times this year it's a lot. That's why I can't seriously measure up to someone like Justine. Of course, I will try on October 27 to keep up with her.
"But that's not the point of the event. We want to have some fun, to please the spectators and most of all to do something for the children."
Graf, who was world number one for an uninterrupted 377 weeks between 1987 and 1991, said the idea of playing Henin came after she had built up a friendly relationship with the Belgian over the past few years.
"When I phoned her up at the beginning of the year it was no question for her. She looked in her dairy and immediately agreed to play," Graf said.
Henin has established her own charity foundation to help children suffering from cancer.
The possibility of husband Andre joining the event in a mixed double has not been completely ruled out, although Agassi has his own children's charity event next month.
Since Agassi retired following last year's US Open, there was more time for family life in Las Vegas, although the couple are also busy with hotel and holiday centre projects.
"We were mostly travelling as a family so it's not the time which is the biggest change but the inner calm which Andre in particular has much more of now.
"He no longer has the stress and his calm radiates on the family. Family life is much more balanced. It is the way I wanted it and what I had also thought it would be like from my own experience."
Proceeds from the exhibition match will go to a number of projects including a new therapy centre for traumatised children, new therapy rooms for child victims of violence in townships near Cape Town and the first nursery in Eritrea to include therapy care support.