Originally Posted by Steffica Greles
I've always wanted to see this match.
You get the impression that Steffi was really worn out by then, in her 30th year, but desperately holding on for one last chance to win a major (which, of course, happened 6 months later). She looked a mixture of relieved and elated to have defeated Venus in the below clip, having beaten Serena in the previous round, both matches having been in three gruelling sets. Those matches really took their toll on her. She lost to Davenport in the next round, and she admitted that her body didn't recover as quickly as it had done.
There is more to this story. It may, however, never be told because the principals in the story have no interest in telling it. But, occasionally, a detail comes out here and there.
What I know. Steffi altered her training regimen at the beginning of 1995. A back injury had disabled her in the 1994 US Open Final. Following that, she consulted with doctors. Apparently, she was told that any operation to repair a congenital bone spur in her back might end her career.
Not wanting that yet, she adopted new training techniques --- more stretching, less running, less on court practice, more stationary bike. She had a phenomenal 1995 season, despite not playing her best tennis.
By 1996, she was back in top physical form. I saw her play in person four different times that year. She looked great and she was playing tennis better than ever, amazing when you consider that she had cut down on both her oncourt and offcourt training.
She missed most of 1997 with a knee injury, which she first sustained at a warmup tournament to the 1996 Wimbledon. The first operation did not repair the problem and she had to have more extensive surgery for the injury at the end of 1997.
I saw her play in 1998 at Indian Wells. She looked great, she was moving great. And, she was playing well until a strain to one of her quads caused her to retire in a semi-final match to Davenport.
This would start to become a frustrating pattern. While the knee injury didn't cost her any speed, it had depleted her physical reserves. She just couldn't sustain her physical level over long tournaments. With the loss of those physical reserves, she also lost most of her confidence. Steffi's confidence used to come not from winning tournaments but from her training. The knee injury had forced her to curtail her training even more to the point where she was just doing on-court training a few hours a day, when everything felt good.
I saw her play two times in 1999 (at Indian Wells and La Costa). While she was still in great shape, she'd lost some of her muscle mass. To me, that was a sure sign that she was no longer doing as much cross-training as she had in the past. When I saw her play her last match at La Costa, I was surprised by how skinny she looked. Steffi had always been a very lithe athlete, but she had a lot of muscle mass, the kind that would become apparent when she was moving or hitting the ball. On that cool night in La Costa, she looked more like a model with those long legs, than a great athlete.
I was just watching the Tribute to Steffi that Eurosport did when Steffi retired. You can find it on youtube. Someone just posted it. Throughout the tribute, there is commentary from Steffi's last coach, Heinz Gunthardt. At one point, he opines that toward the end of her career it was coming to the point that to be as good as she once was Steffi was going to have to return to doing serving drills. To me, this makes a lot of sense. From 1995 onward, Steffi had relied a lot on all the years of muscle memory she had built up on all her strokes. By 1999, there wasn't much muscle memory left. So, to be as consistent as Steffi was at her peak, she was having to contemplate the possibility of going back to the kind of training she had done regularly in her early career. I don't think Steffi had the motivation or physical reserves to do that anymore.
For a few months, however, she had had quite a run. In the 1999 Wimbledon Quarterfinal, Steffi is as great as she ever was, the only difference being that at her peak she would have won in two sets, not three.