Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
We will recall that when last seen on the WTA Tour in 1987, Steffi had won the year-ending championships and said that she planned to retire at age 28 because, "I'm always running between training and airports, between tournaments to more training, to other engagements... I really want to have time for myself at one point." She also added that if she went on playing after having achieved everything that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova had done in their long careers, she would feel "nervous." (Or so the translation goes. If anyone can find the original interview in German with SID, it would be nice.)
We now join January 1988, already in progress:
Tennis on the upside Down Under
Monday, January 11, 1988
Craig Gabriel and Rachel Shuster
MELBOURNE, Australia - Long the weak sister in tennis' grand slam, the Australian Open debuts today in a new facility and with a new surface in hopes of bouncing back to respectability.
Several tennis stories bear watching in 1988 along with the Open, the year's first major tournament:
- Can top-ranked Ivan Lendl, who lost in the semifinals of last year's Open to Australian Pat Cash, achieve one of his remaining goals and capture the Australian, French and U.S. opens and Wimbledon for the grand slam?
- Will any up-and-coming USA men leave a calling card at the Open? And can the top USA male stars, none of whom are playing in Melbourne, recapture any glory?
- Will Steffi Graf, No. 1 among women since last August, dominate the pro tour or will Martina Navratilova reclaim her preeminence?
"It would be nice, for once, to start the year strong," says Lendl, who has won the French and U.S. opens but never the Australian Open or Wimbledon. "We will then see if anything can come out of it. ... Either way, I'm going to be competitive. I want to win the four grand slams in the one (calendar) year. The next best would be to win the four grand slams throughout your career."
The highest ranking USA male in the Australian Open is Paul Annacone, who is seeded No. 31. Says Annacone: "I hope '88 is going to be a turning point for American tennis, and the positive side, not negative, is projected."
Asked about his being the highest ranking male at Melbourne, Annacone says: "Actually, it's kind of strange. A lot of Americans find it hard to come down here, it's such a long way. Although it's a grand slam and it's exciting with the new facility, overall opinion is it's too far to come for one tournament.
"Financially, it's also a bind. I would have to do really well, what with 29 percent taxes, $2,000 for air fare and $2,000 for hotels. A lot of the players like to skip it and work for the American indoor circuit."
John McEnroe is not playing the Open this year because of a back problem, and Jimmy Connors, 35, is cutting his schedule.
That a sneak peek at some of the answers for Lendl and others will come during the Australian Open is only part of the renewed vitality of this two-week tournament.
Foremost is the change in scenery from the private club in Kooyong, a Melbourne suburb, to the public facility downtown. Of particular interest is the $50 million stadium, with a retractable roof, and the switch from grass courts to something comparable to the surface at the U.S. Open.
The new facility - with 13 outdoor and five indoor courts - is close to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, site of the 1956 Summer Olympics. Center court has seating for 15,000, and the two show courts can hold 3,000 and 6,000 fans.
"We've had so many changes with the Australian Open, and nothing's seemed to work in the past," says Pam Shriver. "First it was in November, then January. Then the women played separately from the men, and then we were combined. It's been the most inconsistent tournament in that regard. ... We will just have to see how the new Australian Open goes."
But Brian Tobin, president of the Australian Tennis Federation, says the Open "is back on a level that a grand-slam tournament deserves. Everyone is talking about the new stadium. The public will appreciate the easy access. And the players will appreciate the designs for their comfort. They can drive right in, play and then leave.
"There is a certain atmosphere at Wimbledon and Roland Garros (home of the French Open in Paris), and Flushing Meadow (the U.S. Open in New York) was quick to establish its own atmosphere. And so it will be here."
Also pleasing to most players is the switch from grass courts, a fast surface where the ball bounces low and irregularly. That favors the serve-and-volley players, such as Navratilova, Cash and two-time defending champion Stefan Edberg of Sweden.
But because so few tournaments remain on grass, such as Wimbledon, the majority of players don't practice enough on that surface and prefer not to play on it. And the name of the game in pro tennis is attracting as many star players as possible. Thus, the switch to the "Rebound Ace" surface, composed of ground tires and supposedly less stressful to a player's body.
Edberg is one of a handful of players capable of challenging for the No. 1 ranking if Lendl can't maintain his extraordinary level of self-motivation.
Lendl thinks he can: "Why get satisfied with 75 percent when you can achieve 100 percent. ... I think I have a chance to win everything. If I didn't, I wouldn't play anywhere."
Lendl looks to Edberg, Mats Wilander, Henri Leconte and Cash as his prime challengers at the Australian Open.
Wimbledon champion Cash is the man in Australia, much as Graf and Boris Becker are megastars in West Germany. Cash's rise into the top-10 rankings has revived the country's tennis interest, slumping since the days of Rod Laver, John Newcombe and Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
Cash is determined to keep it going, even if the new surface is not his favorite. "Obviously, I lose the slight experience edge from the grass courts," he says.
If the seeded players win their matches as expected, Lendl and Cash will meet again in the semifinals.
Another distraction could be an expected anti-apartheid demonstration aimed at Cash and others who played in the recent South African Open.
"I'm going to be concentrating so hard I probably won't even notice the demonstrators," Cash says.
Graf, on the women's side, is beginning to play with supreme confidence. She seems more comfortable about being No. 1: "But there is not much between 1, 2 and 3." Or even possibly No. 5, defending champion Hana Mandlikova, if she's on her game.
Cliff Drysdale, analyst when ESPN covers the Open semifinals and finals, expects the women's competition to be more interesting than the men's. "There are not enough challengers to Lendl," he says. "But on the women's side, you've got the handing of the baton from Martina over to Steffi and Gabriela (Sabatini), and whether they're for real."
Navratilova, who is not talking to reporters before the Open, could be competitive "another couple of years," says Drysdale. "But it will take a monumental effort. Eventually, she might suffer the same fate as McEnroe and (Bjorn) Borg, wondering why she needs to do this. But I think she continues to be motivated."
Also motivated, for one last year, is Chris Evert, coming off a six-week break that included thoughts of retirement.
"I had a lot of doubts and I've given it a lot of thought," Evert says, "but I'm committed to 11 tournaments and all the grand-slam events. I don't have that much time left in tennis, so I'll give it 100 percent for the time I do have left."