Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Graf marches on in regal fashion - Tennis
The Sunday Times (London, England)
Sunday, October 25, 1992
IT SEEMS a fair swap. Our Queen visits Germany; Steffi Graf comes to the Brighton Conference Centre for her annual thrashing of all-comers at the Midland Bank tennis championships.
The 23-year-old Wimbledon champion is far and away Germany's most famous ambassadress, exuding a wholesome, if slightly taciturn, charm. It takes only a small leap of imagination to see her donning gloves to shake hands politely with her ball girls.
As it is, the gloves are metaphorical and more of the boxing variety. Anke Huber, a fellow German burdened by the soubriquet "the new Steffi Graf," played supremely well for an hour against her older and wiser opponent before going down 7-5 6-2. The response from the public was favourable, despite our small differences with the Bundesbank.
Graf, being a creature of habit and more than a little addicted to shopping round the famous Lanes of Brighton, was returning to the scene of five previous victories. The punters clearly appreciate the loyalty. While Sheffield Wednesday fans were hardly tactful in Kaiserslautern this week, singing: "There's only one Winston Churchill," some members of the Brighton crowd had equipped themselves with German flags daubed with glowing tributes to their heroine.
"I feel proud to get such support," Graf said. "But sometimes when people scream you get a little bit embarrassed." The Queen probably feels the same way.
The match began with a cabaret rather than a regal touch, with the Mistress of Ceremonies declaiming "welcome!" in a rich variety of European languages. Whether this was a friendly gesture to the two German semi-finalists or a covert plug for the Maastricht Treaty was unclear.
Either way, Graf looked immediately at home. The tournament favourite won the first two games of the match, and in the process invited an investigation by the Monopolies Commission for her continuing dominance of this event. But the balance of power shifted and suddenly we were witnessing a contest.
Until this moment, 17-year-old Huber had not even singed the edges of the Great British tennis-going public's consciousness. Reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon on an outside court, as she did this year, is no harbinger of national limelight. She might have been written off as a pudding bowl haircut on two stocky legs, but she has revealed herself in Brighton as a powerful puncher of the ball who aspires to play the Andre Agassi way, taking the ball early and building her game from the baseline.
She also seems endearingly pragmatic, tucking the spare ball under her knicker elastic and uttering squeals of damnation when a shot failed to obey her command. Graf, at least, knew what to expect, having teamed up with Huber in Germany's Federation Cup win three months ago. But it might have been significant that Graf's mother, Heidi, was spotted puffing heartily on a cigarette before the first ball was struck.
Their fears became reality during a first set of sterling entertainment. Graf's serve was broken twice as the younger woman charged to the net at will, demonstrating a spirit greater than Graf ever showed at her age. But then the four times Wimbledon champion, with her iron-fisted forehand, needed few other avenues of attack in those days. Huber's fearlessness, and her ability to delve into the corners of the court, unsettled the champion. Graf was frequently forced to parry instead of strike, so fiercely was the ball played to her feet.
There was also the matter of a grunt. Not being Monica Seles, Huber escaped censure for the noise a chirrup crossed with a moan which assumed greater prominence in the engulfing hush of the restrained English audience. Perhaps, as Seles discovered, complaints rise with one's world ranking, and Huber is ranked only 11th. By comparison, Graf noiselessly began to assert herself as the first set progressed. She held serve in the seventh game with the help of two aces but still struggled to break her opponent's serve until the crucial last game of the set.
In her quarter-final the day before against Lori McNeil, of the United States, Graf had awarded herself 10 out of 10 for performance. "Today ... five," she said in mock disgust. Still, she is appearing in her fifth successive Brighton final today, this time against Jana Novotna, who beat Mary Joe Fernandez 6-3 6-4. The sponsors will be delighted, not to mention the local hard-pressed shopkeepers who may have found the recession has suddenly eased in these parts. "I cannot resist the antique shops or the little restaurants," Graf said. And, of course, the pfennigs are going a little further this year.