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post #2405 of (permalink) Old Oct 27th, 2012, 09:00 PM
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

The Record (New Jersey) - Monday, November 23, 1987
Author: By Bill Pennington

You didn't have to be fluent in German to understand that Steffi Graf was in a bad mood yesterday.

Yelling at herself in her native tongue, calling herself a "dummy" and once referring to her tennis racquet as "a traitor," Graf was losing points, losing confidence, and losing her match to Gabriela Sabatini.

Graf wants to be accepted as the world's greatest woman tennis player. The Virginia Slims computer said she would hold that ranking regardless of the outcome of the final of the Virginia Slims Championships at Madison Square Garden yesterday.

But if she had lost, all the computer printouts in the world could not have changed the perception that Graf still cannot win the big titles. Of the 1987 major tournaments, she won the French Open but lost in the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

A paper champ? A computer chip champ?

After losing the first set yesterday, Graf could hear the whispers. So she yelled. She railed at herself and rallied her game, charging past Sabatini, the 17-year-old from Argentina, to win the Slims Championships, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-4.

Although the Slims is not considered a major, it is the last women's tournament of the year. It was to be the final showdown between Graf and Martina Navratilova.

Sabatini, playing the best tennis of her career, eliminated Navratilova Friday. After one set yesterday, serving magnificently and running the court effortlessly, Sabatini finally seemed ready to beat Graf in their 11th meeting. Sabatini was gliding from sideline to sideline and most of the Garden crowd was behind her.

"I was wondering what was going on," Graf said.

So was everyone else.

On her side of the net, Sabatini was concentrating on maintaining the sneak attack.

"After the difficult matches I had Friday and Saturday [a three-set victory over Manuela Maleeva], I knew I had to win it today in three sets," Sabatini said of the best-of-five format. "I could only win it that way. I was too tired to play very well for four or five sets. "

Graf saw the desperation in her opponent's eyes. "I knew she would have to get tired eventually," Graf said. "I was trying to make her run. "

The players were on serve until the eighth game of the second set. Sabatini double-faulted at break point. She broke back in what might be best described as a last gasp, then lost serve and the set in the 10th game.

"I knew it was over then," Sabatini said later.

And it was.

A week ago, Steffi came to New York to shop and assert her dominance, though not necessarily in that order.

She did both. And afterward, she even displayed a sense of humor.

Asked how she would describe her year, when her match record was 75-2, Graf answered in a long, obviously preconceived soliloquy that mentioned many of her 1987 tour victories.

"Yesterday [Saturday] I took a long time to fall asleep," Graf said. "I was thinking of how to describe my year. I had a weird thing going on. I'm going to describe my year like I was cooking and making a menu card.

"For an appetizer, I had Boca Raton and Key Biscayne. For the main dish, I had a hearty and tender French Open topped off with Berlin and Rome. On the side, I had Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals.

"But the bad thing about my cooking was that I didn't take enough salt and pepper on both of them.

"For dessert and I like dessert very much I had Hamburg and Zurich, and best of all, New York.

"That's how I describe 1987. It was very tasteful. "

And entertaining.

Even in defeat, Sabatini described her week in New York City as "the best week I've ever had."

Sabatini, not Navratilova, may be the toughest competition for Graf in 1988. In the last two months of the year, Sabatini has improved dramatically.

Yesterday, fatigue was a factor, but Sabatini may have also showed her inexperience. She was fine as she slugged it out with Graf, armed with forceful ground strokes of her own. But she double-faulted 17 times.

"I think sometimes she was trying too hard," Graf said of her doubles partner.

In the end, it was Sabatini who was muttering to herself on the court. Graf was still speaking in German, but this time yelling to a crowd of fans waving a German flag in the stands. She thanked them for coming out and wished them a safe trip home.

She was smiling. She was laughing. She was on top of the world. The women's tennis world, that is.
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