Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Wish she had felt more comfortable with the role of deadpan snarker™. Then, instead of saying "I can't say until afterward" whenever people asked if she was going to win the Slam, she could have said: "No, I fully intend to lose in the quarterfinals, just to shut everyone up."
The Word On Graf: Having A Grand Time
By Melissa Isaacson of The Sentinel Staff
August 28, 1988
One year and three months ago, Steffi Graf won the French Open, her first major title. She had yet to advance past the fourth round of Wimbledon, the third round of the Australian or the semifinals of the U.S. Open. The word potential still was being used to describe her talents, and Martina Navratilova was still the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
Today, Graf, 19, stands on the brink of tennis immortality.
With a title at the U.S. Open, which opens Monday in Flushing Meadow, N.Y., Graf, of West Germany, will join only four other players -- American Don Budge, Australian Rod Laver, American Maureen Connolly and Australian Margaret Court -- who have won the Grand Slam Australian and French Opens, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in a calendar year.
Perhaps because it has come upon Graf so rapidly, or maybe because she is so young, the magnitude of the achievement seems to escape her for the moment. "Everybody is thinking and talking about it," Graf said last week. "It seems that I have a chance, but if I'm going to do it I can't say until afterward."
After breaking Navratilova's string of consecutive Wimbledon singles titles at six in July, Graf has taken it relatively easy. Aside from an exhibition in Tokyo, a clay-court tournament in Hamburg, West Germany, and accelerated practice the past few weeks, Graf has played very little since Wimbledon. Part of that was because of a dog bite by one of her beloved pets.
She spent part of her off-time recovering from the bite, relaxing at Gleneagles Country Club in Delray Beach, where she is the touring pro. Her family is building a home there. It will be more of a retreat for Steffi, who still returns to her birthplace in Bruhl, West Germany, whenever possible.
"You always need time to get away, to do something different," Graf said. "It was a lot of pressure. Not pressure on court, but there were things outside tennis and after Wimbledon. There were a lot of interviews and a lot of other things, and you really feel like getting away from all the people.
"Playing tennis and everything is much easier than what's all around it. Like in Germany, my matches didn't last as long as I was giving autographs or interviews afterward."
Graf has been lauded for her ability to brush aside opponents in as much time as it takes some people to brush their teeth. She has also, however, been criticized for it. And it has bothered her to the point of making her consider changing her game.
"It did cross my mind, like when I was in Berlin in May and winning very easily and playing very, very fast," Graf said. "At the end of a match, I always try to do different shots or play a long rally or come in. I've lost a few games doing that, and nobody was very happy about it.
"Then in Paris, I was beating Natalia Zvereva, 6-0, 6-0, and they were saying, 'Why didn't you give her a game?' Again, what the hell? What can you do? Now I'm just playing as well as I can."
As well as she can is almost scary. Graf's forehand is widely acknowledged as the best in the women's game and is often compared with some of the best men's. Her backhand, once a liability, has caught up, if not in power then certainly in control.
With her athletic ability, she is capable of coming to the net and, in fact, demonstrated a lethal volley at Wimbledon, but she rarely needs to use that skill. And with a powerful serve to top it off, Graf has it all.
At Wimbledon against Navratilova, Graf was relentless, prompting the eight-time champion to offer a heartfelt concession after the match. "I didn't succumb to emotions today," Navratilova said. "I succumbed to a better player. . . . But this is how it should have happened. If you have to lose, you might as well lose to the better player on the final day and pass the torch, if you can call it that."
You definitely can call it that. But though Navratilova was willing to concede that Graf was the better player, she might have a harder time with the whole business of the Grand Slam.
Navratilova won six Grand Slam tournaments in a row in 1983 and 1984, but traditionalists say she did not earn the Grand Slam because the victories did not come in one calendar year. The International Tennis Federation awarded Navratilova $1 million for the feat, and the Women's International Tennis Association, of which Navratilova serves on the board of directors, concurs that it was indeed a Grand Slam. At the very least, put an asterisk beside it. Graf, who will travel to Seoul, South Korea, for the Summer Olympics almost immediately after the U.S. Open, could end up winning the Grand Slam and copping a gold medal all in the same year. "That's going to be really tough, going to Seoul so soon after," Graf said, "but still I'm really looking forward to it."
Graf, who is extremely close to her father -- who taught her the game -- and to her mother and younger brother, is often asked about her lack of friends on tour. It is not that Graf is unfriendly, but rather very competitive and also very private. Besides, how many other players are still around when she is finished with a tournament -- almost always the day after the final?
Graf contends that she has not missed anything by not leading the typical life of a teen-ager. "I've had a chance to do everything I wanted to do; I'm not playing tennis all day," said Graf, who counts Bruce Springsteen among her heroes. "Most of the time, I'm playing four hours a day, so I have enough time to do everything else. I'm not constantly thinking about tennis."
Although 100 percent of the people responding to a recent poll in Germany know who Graf is, Graf said she still doesn't always feel appreciated. "In Germany, it's hard to be good at something," she said. "People get bored I guess. . . . I don't know what they want anymore, but I'm learning to ignore them."
For Graf to keep up her dominance into the '90s (she has said she won't play past her late 20s), Margaret Court, the last person to win the Grand Slam (in 1970), said it will depend not so much on Graf's competition as her motivation.
"There seems to be one or two there with Steffi at the moment, but if no one is there in the future to push her too much, it will depend on her morale," Court said.
Already this year Graf has earned $1 million in prize money alone. In her career she has earned nearly $3 million and countless more on endorsements. Though she is not materialistic -- her hobbies still include collecting T- shirts and shorts -- Graf is no dummy either.
"I feel very secure," she said. "It's a good feeling when you know that you don't have to worry about money anymore. . . . The tennis life is not such a bad life."