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post #2964 of (permalink) Old Oct 1st, 2013, 01:06 PM
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

Saturday, October 1, 1988

SEOUL - It's the moments, fleeting but dripping with barely perceptible significance, that break the bridesmaids and crown the champions.

Steffi Graf, who has captured more than her share this year, faced yet another decisive instant in the eighth game of yesterday's Olympic gold medal tennis final against Gabriela Sabatini.

The two teen-agers battled neck and neck, staying on serve through the first seven games. With Sabatini serving to square the first set at 4-all, Graf broke her in a flash. First, the West German coaxed Sabatini to the net, then forced her to flub a half-volley. Graf drew the Argentine to the net again, then rifled a forehead passing shot.

Ruffled, Sabatini committed an unforced backhand error during the next point. Graf sent a backhand return long, but came back with a crackling forehand that Sabatini was unable to handle. Sabatini's service, and perhaps her spirit, was broken.

Graf already had won tennis' Grand Slam with victories at the 1988 Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open championships. An Olympic gold in tennis, which had not be awarded in 64 years, would give her a rare, so-called Golden Slam. Her impetuous but dangerous challenger in the final, Sabatini, had been the only player to beat her (twice) this year.

The West German, 19, also faced the challenge of overcoming waning strength and motivation in the aftermath of clinching her Grand Slam in New York just weeks before the start of the Seoul Summer Games. She overcame all obstacles with characteristic aplomb.

"I came here really tired and not really expecting much from myself. I hoped to get as far as possible here. Now this,'' said Graf, who won the 1984 tournament in L.A. which was then a demonstration event and limited to players under 21.

"The way I was feeling, I was really down for some reason. I had to pick myself up and do my best.''

Sabatini, 18, whose second 1988 victory over Graf came on a cement surface similar to that used here, mustered one last assault at her rival. She opened the second set with a change of tactics, following her serves to the net instead of being satisfied trading groundstrokes from the baseline. The strategy worked well initially, but appeared eventually to take a toll on Sabatini's first-serve accuracy.

Still, Sabatini managed to force Graf into a clash of wills in the most epic game of the match, with Graf serving and leading 4-3 in the second set. Graf ended a 27-stroke rally, the longest of the day, and rescued a break point by powdering a forehand up the line. Apparently unrattled, Sabatini scrambled to win the next point, introducing to her arsenal a between-the-legs return of a Graf lob.

Graf immediately pulled the plug on any notions Sabatini, buoyed by the trick shot, may have had of seizing the momentum. Graf forced three advantages before taking the game when Sabatini nailed a first-serve return.

"She didn't play too well,'' Graf said of Sabatini. "I saw her getting tired at the end.''

From the very beginning of the match, Graf ingeniously set up Sabatini's fall by pinning her deep behind the baseline with laser-like forehands, then crossing her, back-and-forth, to induce fatigue. When Sabatini went to the attack in the second set, she chose her opportunities carelessly. Often, she was no more than a sitting duck for Graf's precision groundstrokes.

In addition to making history, Graf marshaled a level of performance most of her colleagues could not. The Olympic field was opened to professional players for the first time in history, yet no prize money was offered. That, plus the proximity of the U.S. Open, seemed to adversely affect the play of most of the competitors. Also, many amateur Olympians had spent the fortnight criticizing the presence of the professionals.

"It's been talked about too much,'' Graf said. "My feeling is, either only amateurs are allowed to play or all professionals are allowed in. I can't do anything about tennis (professionals) being in the Olympics, and not anybody else.

"It's very exciting,'' she added of her gold medal. "It's something not many people after me will be able to achieve, winning the Grand Slam first, then the gold medal afterward. It's amazing."
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