Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
It will be apparent in tomorrow's installment that Steffi thinks Arantxa is one of the younger players coming up who will challenge her. The men's game will eventually see a couple of players who are capable of dominating.
GRAF REIGNS SUPREME IN WOMEN'S GAME
Wednesday, August 24, 1988
For most tennis players there are opponents. For Steffi Graf, there are only victims.
"I don't know," somebody said Tuesday before rain postponed until today the sacrifice of Arantxa Sanchez to the tennis goddess Graf on a sheet of green asphalt at Ramapo College. "Sanchez is pretty good. She could give Steffi trouble. She could last more than an hour."
Change the names, and the conversation could have taken place anywhere women play tennis and at any time during the last 60 years. From Suzanne Lenglen to Helen Wills Moody to Maureen Connolly to Billie Jean King to Chris Evert to Martina Navratilova to Graf, the line of succession stretches as unbroken as the line of heavyweight boxing champions.
With rare exceptions, there is always one who stands above the rest. Their dominance is so complete that the question is not whether they will win, but whether the opponent of the moment will survive an hour.
Some people find this truth to be depressing. They complain when Graf grinds another opponent to dust, just as they complained when Navratilova did it. Too boring, the critics said. Give us more competition.
Ted Tinling, who first officiated a match for Lenglen 64 years ago and knows more about tennis than Jacques Cousteau knows about the ocean, has seen it all before. Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills Moody were the same, he said. They came not to win, but to destroy.
"The public went to their matches to see the victim writhe," Tinling said as he nibbled at a sandwich under a blue-and-white striped tent on the grounds of the United Jersey Bank Tennis Classic. "Would the victim win two games or three?
"They thought it was a wonderful thing to see such a marvelous display of skills."
Unless you watch Mike Tyson box, Greg Louganis dive, or Graf mash forehands, you can't see athletic domination like that anymore. And only Graf does it week in and week out.
It is no sacrilege to mention Graf in the same breath as Tyson. Though the images of their sports are as different as five-alarm chili and quiche, they are the same. They are not only better than the rest, but also head and shoulders, legs and torso, above the common crush of humanity.
It is a phenomenon that does not apply to many sports. In men's tennis, there have been no champions like Graf and her predecessors.
"There has never been a male player who was that dominating," said Tinling. "Fred Perry tried the most to be supreme," he said, but even Perry could not win a Grand Slam final 6-0, 6-0 in 32 minutes, as Graf did earlier this year when she obliterated Natalia Zvereva at the French Open.
"Once every 10 years in women's tennis, someone comes along who is interested in nothing other than to be supreme," Tinling said.
This goes against the laws of nature. In sports as in life, certain laws of evolution apply. An athletic aberration appears a Babe Ruth, for instance who changes the way a game is played and raises the general level of skill in all others who play it. Once that happens, it becomes virtually impossible for another Babe Ruth to appear. The general level of talent is simply too high to allow such domination.
Ruth's records can fall, but one player will never again hit more home runs in one season than any other single team.
The dynasties are dead. No matter what New York baseball fans think, no team will ever again win nine pennants in 10 years.
It is a hard and fast rule. But in women's tennis and boxing, it doesn't apply.
Lack of depth doesn't explain it. There was plently of depth in boxing before Tyson showed up. The overall level of women's tennis is higher than it ever was. And still Graf dominates.
The nature of the sport has something to do with it. Tennis requires not only great skill, but also incredible concentration. Few people can combine both. For some reason, those who can always seem to be women.
"Women are capable of more concentration than men," Tinling said. "Women have more focused lives."
Graf knew she wanted to play tennis when she was 4. She turned pro at 14. She was in the top 10 at 16. At 18, she was the best in the world.
She's 19 now and in the past two years her record is 125-4. That's just about what Mets fans figure the Mets ought to be.
Five years ago, Navratilova started a two-year run in which she won 164 matches and lost three. Now Navratilova is as helpless before Graf as a college baseball team would be against Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens.
Great as Navratilova was, she never had what Graf has: the calculating, burning compulsion to win every point.
"Martina used to hit the world's most impossible cross-court dinks," said Tinling. She did it just to see if she could. She did it because it was too easy just to put the easy forehand away.
Graf will take the sure winner every time. "She's too practical," Tinling said. "She plays the percentages. Maureen Connolly was like that."
Graf takes the court as if she were renting it by the hour. She plays each point as if she were down match point at Wimbledon.
Like Tyson, Ali, Marciano, and Louis, like Lenglen, Wills, Connolly, King, Evert, and Navratilova, she is the player from another universe.
It is absurd to bewail such dominance. It makes sense only to enjoy it while we can.