This is the first time I am reading this article and it is absolutely wonderful. I love these intimate glimpses into who Steffi really is and how people have become her "fans" because of who she is and how she relates to the people around her.
The following impressions of Steffi Graf are excerpted from a letter from Robyn Macaraig, who saw the 20-year-old West German star from a revealing vantage point recently at the San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club:
"I was a ballperson at the Great American Bank Tennis Classic, and from watching her up close, when she practiced every morning on center court and when she competed, I know she is a very sweet girl ... She was very modest, and was uncomfortable when people continuously praised her. She was very nice to us ballkids, and very generous. When some of us would follow her into the locker room after a match, she would stop and sign autographs for us, even if one of us asked her to sign all the pictures of her in the program book. When we told her she only had to sign one if she preferred, she would shake her head, smile and say, 'No, I'll sign all of them.'
"... We never really thought about how young and innocent she was until we saw those black jelly bracelets dangling from her wrist. Why? Well, to us ballkids, that was a symbol of her youth and how much she was like the rest of us ... When we saw the real Steffi, personality and all, not just some picture on the television screen ... we knew she represented us: the young tennis players of the world who strive for success and who strive to make all our dreams come true. She taught us by her example that if we worked hard and really put our minds to it, we could do it ... She taught us that no matter what happens to us in our lives to never let success change us and go to our heads."
Although this one doesn't involve an act of generosity, it does give an idea of how she acknowledged the efforts the people behind the scenes put in. During the 1995 US Open there was a woman working for the USA Network who did a feature on all the training the ballkids go through, which involved her doing all the drills and taking the test. She did well enough, so they actually let her be a "ballkid" while miked during a Jensen brothers match. Afterward she returned to doing her usual brief interview segments. "The other day," she said, "I was talking to Steffi Graf, asked her one or two questions and was done. She started walking away, then turned around and smiled and said, `By the way, I thought you did great as a ball person.' "
Another favorite story of mine comes from a tennis journalist from the Washington Times who "met her back in 1984 when she was 15 years old. She was thin as a pretzel and shy as a lamb, but she could whack a tennis ball. A group of people who included Graf, her mother, a couple other German players and my then-girlfriend, spent three days sitting around a small, dank tennis club in Birmingham, England, waiting for the rain to stop. We played cards and ate crepes stuffed with chocolate... A few years ago, two of my friends were stranded outside the main gates of the U.S. Open. As I frantically searched for tickets, I bumped into Graf. Surrounded by a mob of autograph seekers, she noticed me and the look of panic on my face. She asked how it was going, and I told her not well, throwing in the reason as an afterthought. She whipped two tickets out of her tennis bag. 'I still owe you for a couple of those crepes, but I think now we're even,' Graf said, cracking a smile."
And of course, the nuns from Fraternite Notre Dame in NYC who run soup kitchens/food pantries and meals-on-wheels for the eldery and AIDS patients who can't get out; they came out to the US Open in 1993 to take part in the Arthur Ashe Foundation benefit on the Sunday before the tournament. Upon hearing that some of the nuns liked sports, the tennis community came through: "People or players have been giving us tickets," said Sister Mary Francesca. "Steffi Graf just gave us some the other day."