A ROUT WITH RECORD WITNESSES FOR POLO CLUB FINALE
The Palm Beach Post - Monday, March 9, 1992
Author: Dave George
The Gabriela Sabatini signature rose, which was to have been featured at the Virginia Slims of Florida tournament, never bloomed in sufficient quantities. Better that than what happened to Conchita Martinez.
She blossomed in stunning surprise during the week and then wilted and died in the heat of Sunday's final. Steffi Graf dropped the first set for dramatic effect and then flipped Martinez like a Spanish omelet, winning the obligatory third set 6-0.
The end was quick and cruel and predictable, the perfect allegory for a tournament that stands ready to leave the Polo Club after six highly successful seasons and complete the familiar migratory pattern of most Palm Beach County tennis and golf events. When the last yuppie closes on the last house in the development, time to haul off the Port-O-Lets, baby. It's over.
"I definitely will miss having the tournament here," said Graf, whose own Polo Club residence is so close that she walked home after the match to shower and change into cutoff jeans before meeting the press. "I have gotten to know all the ushers here. I know everybody around. It's sad."
Sad, yes, but ultimately irrelevant, just like the Virginia Slims' seven-day attendance record of 72,547, more people than have seen an outdoor women's tennis event anywhere on the planet.
If the tournament moves to Coral Springs next spring as announced, there will be bigger grandstands, bigger parking lots, i.e. bigger bucks.
Court-side among the champagne box-holders would have been the perfect photo op for a president who wants to sell the recession as a rumor on the eve of Super Tuesday. This tournament was a sellout even though Sabatini, the defending champion, lost in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon.
There were more Slims tickets sold than in 1990, when Jennifer Capriati made her professional debut at Boca Raton. More than 1989, when Graf beat Chris Evert in three sets at the Polo Club.
What packed the stadium Sunday was a mismatch between the only woman other than Margaret Court and Maureen Connolly to complete a calendar year Grand Slam and a teenage clay-court specialist who was so unsure of her status as a singles player that she packed her Polo Club schedule with doubles matches as well.
Martinez played a doubles semifinal with partner Linda Harvey-Wild Saturday night, a few hours after winning a singles semifinal over Amanda Coetzer. Sunday, perhaps her most important afternoon as a pro, was little more than a sweaty afterthought. Martinez mailed in the third set against Graf, standing flat-footed as forehand returns sailed past, and barely had time to change into a dry shirt before her doubles final was called on the court.
Fifty-five minutes after she collected $44,000 for losing to Graf, Martinez went through the motions in the tag-team final. Losing 6-2, 6-2 to Natalia Zvereva and Larisa Savchenko was worth $8,250 and, more importantly, the right to pull off her socks and soak her feet. For the week, Martinez played 439 minutes of singles and 345 of doubles.
"I no play Lipton," Martinez said. "I go home (to Barcelona). The last two weeks were very busy, playing singles and doubles. I am happy to make the finals but this is not enough good."
Graf used the middle of the match to work on tactics introduced to her game by new coach Heinz Guenthardt. He's got at least 57 of them, including drop shots and other subtle slices heretofore unknown with a champion who normally dispatches opponents with forehand floggings.
Graf got her first 1992 victory and third overall at the Polo Club without having to play Sabatini, who left the premises Thursday staring at a right hand that had cramped up like a lobster claw. Still, there was a brutal three-set quarterfinal with Zina Garrison to toughen Graf for the Lipton and a $110,000 winner's check to soften the disappointment of no longer having a tournament more conveniently located and dependable than Domino's.
When a player has won 62 professional titles and gotten to that total eight years younger than did Navratilova, the all-time victory leader, a few casual Sunday brunches like this one seem due.
"I'm always surprised how long I've been in this game," said Graf, who turned pro at 13. "Ten years is such a long time."
Long enough to be a lofty goal for the next South Florida Virginia Slims tournament site. Demographically, the Polo Club never had a chance.