Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
October 1, 1988
Graf Adds Gold to Her Grand '88 Record
By PETER ALFANO
"New York Times"
SEOUL, South Korea -- When she arrived in Seoul more than two weeks ago, an Olympic gold medal appeared out of reach for Steffi Graf. The pursuit of the Grand Slam had taken its toll, the mental and physical exhaustion having drained her of her customary resolve, eliminating the bounce in her step as she moves at that familiar, no-nonsense pace around a court. Perhaps she was trying to accomplish too much in one year, after all. "I came here really tired," Graf said. "I was not expecting too much of myself."
As the Olympics progressed, however, Graf slowly became rejunvenated. She is a track fan who could easily make the West German team, her father, Peter Graf, said. Steffi even went for some runs on the training track at the Athlete's Village, outpacing a former Olympian, Harald Schmid. Her enthusiasm returned and it showed on the court in her last two matches.
She played one of her best matches ever, defeating Zina Garrison in the semifinals. Then today, appearing more relaxed and uninhibited than she was during the United States Open final, Graf completed what probably will be regarded as the finest year ever in tennis, defeating Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, 6-3, 6-3, to win the Olympic gold medal.
Thus, the 19-year-old Graf became the first player - male or female -to achieve the Golden Slam, the Grand Slam championship and gold medal. This is the first time in 64 years that tennis has been a medal sport in the Olympics so many of the legendary players never had the opportunity to do what she did. Still, that does not tarnish the remarkable year she has had, winning Wimbledon, the United States Open, French Open, Australian Open and now the gold. "I'm very excited," she said. "It's something not many people after me will achieve. It's amazing."
For the time being, at least, Graf has run out of challenges. Sabatini, who is 18, is considered the player with the best chance of challenging Graf for superiority during the next several years. She defeated Graf twice last March in Florida, but that seems like ancient history now. Graf said those losses were a warning that she was beginning to take things for granted, making her work with a renewed purpose.
That is why she does not envision any problem defending her wealth of
championships and No. 1 ranking next year. "I won't have any motivation problems," Graf said. "I enjoy playing tennis. It's what I want to do. Next year, there will be more tournaments."
Graf was criticized by some observers for lacking emotion when she defeated Sabatini in the Open final to win the first Grand Slam since Margaret Court of Australia did it in 1970. She was reserved again today, but smiled broadly and to the guests' seats, where she hugged her father and her coach, Pavel Slozil. During the medal ceremony, she held her gold medal for photographers and waved to the West Germans in the stands, some of whom were waving flags.
The match was closer than the scores might have indicated. Sabatini had several chances to be wearing the gold herself. She wasted three break points in the first game of the match, but broke Graf in the fifth game and was playing well enough to win. Graf broke back in the sixth game, forcing two errors by hitting the corners with her forehand. She broke Sabatini in the eighth game, again pressuring her opponent into making mistakes. In the Open, Graf appeared tentative at times, but today, she hit her groundstrokes with authority.
She closed out the first set with an ace, only six games left to achieve the Golden Slam. Sabatini recovered to split the first four games of the second set, but then was broken in the fifth, when Graf ran around her forehand on Sabatini's second serve, whipping a winner down the line.
Sabatini's last stand came when she held two break points in the eighth game, but Graf saved both. She broke Sabatini to win the gold, fittingly, with a forehand winner on match point. "I felt I would win after the fifth game of the second set," Graf said. "But I actually had a very good feeling after the first game of the match. I was liking the way I am playing." Graf has beaten Sabatini in 14 of 16 matches, but still respects her as the most dangerous opponent on the tour.
Sabatini's high bouncing, topspin forehand can be difficult to handle, and she may even be marginally better at the net. Of course, Graf does not have to come to the net, having the ability to overpower opponents from midcourt and the baseline.
She said she passed up several opportunities to approach today, preferring to make Sabatini run around the court. A lack of stamina has been Sabatini's undoing in several of their matches. "I wanted her to run," Graf said. "Maybe in the future, I will try to come to the net more."
Graf now has won 40 consecutive matches and is 66-2 for the year. She returns to West Germany to play two exhibitions against Sabatini next week, then will take time off. Her father said he will most likely withdraw her from a tournament in Zurich, Switzerland, later this month. She will go to New York for the Virginia Slims championships in November, the last major tournament of the year. She will not be faulted if it seems anticlimatic.
"I will take time off, see how I feel," she said. "It depends on me. I'll do whatever I feel like."