Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
September 11, 1988
Open Victory Gives Graf a Grand Slam
By PETER ALFANO
"New York Times"
It took a 19-year-old West German with a rapier forehand to give the National Tennis Center the tradition it lacked, and perhaps even some needed dignity. With the flags of the four Grand Slam countries fluttering in a strong breeze on the stadium court yesterday, Steffi Graf accepted the accolades and gifts of a tennis world that had just watched her make history in the United States Open.
For the first time in 18 years, tennis has a Grand Slam champion. Graf joined the exclusive club when she defeated her teen-age contemporary, Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, adding the Open to her previous championships this year in the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon. Only Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Rod Laver and Margaret Court have won the Slam. Court was the most recent champion, completing it in 1970, when the United States Open was played at Forest Hills.
The Tennis Center is a much maligned byproduct of professional tennis, a place where money, not tradition, has counted most. Playing on synthetic Deco II hardcourt, which has replaced grass and red clay as the standard surface in tennis, Graf gave more than 21,000 fans a day to remember.
After the match, she rushed to the box seats where her family was sitting, hugging her father, mother, brother and coach Pavil Slozil. She participated in a postmatch ceremony, flag bearers adding to the pomp and circumstance. Gordon Jorgensen, president of the United States Tennis Association, gave Graf a bracelet with four diamonds, one for each Grand Slam event. Budge, who won the Grand Slam in 1938 and is one of Graf's fans, warmly congratulated her. Graf then raised the Open trophy over her head in the customary victory pose. The victory was worth $275,000 in prize money for Graf, but that hardly seemed to matter. Earlier this year, she passed $1 million in prize money.
The final was a tense, if not classic match, the pressure obvious in some of the tentative points that Graf played. But Sabatini also was eager for the challenge. The 18-year-old is ranked fifth in the world and is generally regarded as the player most likely to challenge Graf's status as the top player in the game. Last March, Sabatini handed Graf her only two losses of the year.
"I think it is great what she did," Sabatini said. "Not too many people can win a Grand Slam. She won all with much confidence. Her mentality is perfect."
Graf has lost only four matches in the last two years, playing with a consistency that belies the grueling nature of life on the tour. She has a 60-2 match record this year, and has defeated Sabatini in 12 of their 14 career matches.
Sabatini, however, has many of the same qualities that Graf brings to the court. She has an excellent topspin forehand, an ever-improving serve, and arguably, a better net game. Yesterday, she even varied the pace, looping some groundstrokes, making Graf supply her own power. The difference between the two centers on Sabatini's penchant for tiring, her Achilles' heel, and the tendency for her mind to wander. It was just such a lapse in the third set that may have cost her yesterday's match.
Graf advanced to the final when Chris Evert was forced to withdraw from Friday's semifinal because of a stomach ailment.
She broke Sabatini twice to win the first set, but her own service games were shaky. So, despite the first set outcome, Sabatini felt she was very much in the match. She broke Graf in the fourth game of the next set, forcing three errors, among them one on Graf's forehand, the single most intimidating shot in women's tennis. Graf broke back in the seventh game, hitting a slingshot forehand winner at Sabatini's feet on break point, but Sabatini displayed some resolve of her own, immediately breaking back, running down two of Graf's forehands.
She closed out the set and had the majority of fans supporting her. It appeared they were not interested in history being made. Anyone closely watching Sabatini, however, could see that she was taking longer between points. She did not look as excited as she should. "I knew she had to be nervous," Sabatini said, "but I just got too tired. I was trying, though. I played like I did against her in the last matches. I hit deep balls. That bothers her very much. For some moments I do it, for some I don't."
One of the moments that she didn't came in the second game of the third set. Graf broke Sabatini at love, 3 of the points coming on unforced errors. There was also a forehand crosscourt winner by Graf, which landed on the line.
The early break raised her confidence, giving her some breathing room. She broke again in the sixth game, with Sabatini double-faulting on break point. There were some nervous moments when she was trying to close out the match, but when she reached Grand Slam point, Graf whistled a backhand groundstroke crosscourt that almost knocked the racquet from Sabatini's hand.
Graf was planning to leave for her home in Bruehl, West Germany, last night, to rest. Then, she will head for Seoul, South Korea, and the Olympic Games. As she said, the year is not over. A gold medal may await.