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post #3241 of (permalink) Old Feb 16th, 2014, 03:44 PM
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

Remember, Steffi wasn't even playing in this tournament. No food or drink past this point.

Hack a start to challenging Graf's dominance
Houston Chronicle
Monday, March 28, 1994
DALE ROBERTSON, Houston Chronicle Staff Writer

IT must be Monday morning because, yawn, a 24-year-old blonde German person with killer legs whose first name begins with "S" is off to the bank with a fat check after winning a women's tennis tournament

But at least today it's a different 24-year-old blonde German person with killer legs whose first name begins with "S."

Sabine Hack -- as in "hock," which is where she surely won't be after leaving Texas $80,000 the richer -- rallied to defeat Mary Pierce 7-5, 6-4 in the Virginia Slims of Houston final Sunday. It was the biggest victory of Hack's career and her first outside Brazil, where her two other titles in eight pro seasons came.

It also pulled Hack to within 81 tour championships and, oh, $13.5 million of matching Steffi Graf's career totals.

Now on the whole, I'd say Sabine's hacking Pierce to pieces is better for the star-depleted women's game than Graf, Hack's onetime under-14s doubles partner in junior tennis, summarily bullying another tournament field into whimpering surrender.

Since the first of the year, Graf has won 28 consecutive matches and five tournaments, yielding only one set in the process. She, of course, removed herself from the role of off-the-board favorite here only by not deigning to enter.

She never has, something I find irritating since Houston is where the circuit that made possible her fame and fortune came into being. At the risk of sounding vindictive, perhaps it serves her right to be stove up for an indeterminate period with a knee injury, suffered while she practiced in Boca Raton last week. Dammit, she should have been with us instead.

Then again, Graf ought not to be asked to indefinitely carry the women's game all by her lonesome while everyone else sits around anguishing over when -- or if -- Monica Seles will resurface. Although it desperately needs the Garbo-esque Seles to force Steffi to break a sweat, at some point somebody else must fill the void.

Hack would be a natural, given her looks and how diligently she stalks a tennis ball. But she lacks presence and panache. While she would have us believe there's a negligible difference between herself and Graf in terms of raw ability, she readily owns up to the gross disparity between their brains.

Sabine, for whom pressure has always been a daunting adversary, was never certain she could win Sunday until she did so, until Pierce -- a head case in her own right because of a lunatic father from hell -- finally sailed a backhand long at fifth match point.

It was Pierce's 50th unforced error of the chilly, blustery afternoon. Hack was far more a beneficiary of her opponent's largess than a master of her fate.

"Steffi has more confidence than me," Hack said. "She's really tough mentally, after having won so much. She's a very special player, that's for sure."

Extraordinarily special. But Steffi the Steamroller wouldn't be winning ad nauseam if Seles hadn't been knifed by a maniacal Graf fan last year or if Jennifer Capriati hadn't slipped into a teen funk, or if Gabriela Sabatini hadn't zoned out, or if Martina Navratilova's fountain of eternal youth hadn't finally dried up.

For now, assuming Graf isn't badly hurt, it's Steffi by her lonesome in first class with everyone else in the cattle car. She has no peers, competitively speaking, and the power imbalance makes it a poor juncture for the tour to be confronting a crossroads.

Kraft Foods pulled its support at the end of last year, and its parent company, Philip Morris, so long the ladies' generous benefactor, is presumed to be following suit. Ironically, the once-endangered Houston event is actually on stronger footing than the circuit as a whole.

On this perfectly lousy day for tennis, with live TV to boot, almost a full house turned out and, fortified by mass quantities of cappuccino, seemed to enjoy a smashing time.

Other than Pierce's having to be practically dragged from the chow line to ensure the final's starting on time, the worst thing tournament director Barbara Perry faced all week was a Hill Country nudist resort's having set up an explicit display booth in the arcade at the entrance to the Westside Tennis Club.

"They misrepresented themselves to us," Perry sniffed.

No, the Live Oak Ranch won't return next year. But Barbara is certain she will, no matter what comes down regarding the tour at large. It would be great if she could bring Graf with her; even greater if Steffi's presence had by then become irrelevant, if Hack, Pierce and their peers had restored a measure of parity.

Don't bet any ranch on that, though. You'll lose your britches, too
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