Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Posted this a long time ago elsewhere, but here goes again:
Exhausted at the Goal of an Unbelievable Run
Steffi Graf wins gold and wishes for only one more thing: Quiet at last
3 October 1988
By Ludger Schulze
Steffi Graf was asked what she would perhaps want if she had one free wish in her eventfully boring life now that even the very last athletic dream of the young tennis player is fulfilled. "I would wish to already be at home. So I'm counting the days, I'm counting the hours until I can leave here," said the Olympic champion very softly, but yet loud enough to allow the scream of a tormented soul to be audible. And that it was, not some mere set phrase.
This requires no psychology to establish. Steffi Graf is finished, inwardly empty, almost dead looking. After her 6-3, 6-3 victory in the final against the Argentine Gabriela Sabatini she presented a sad, almost pitiful look. That certainly isn't one's idea of a delightedly beaming winner, quite the contrary. At the obligatory press conference, she was nervous, concentrated with difficulty, constantly ran her hands through her hair, fidgeted at her face with her fingers. "I came here very, very tired, quite definitely not in the best shape," she said. And when she arrived at the Seoul airport, she got caught in a tumultuous swirl of journalists, Steffi here, Steffi there, Steffi, Steffi, Steffi.
She can't take a step anymore without being watched, everyone wants something from her. The blonde superstar gave away control and self-determination over her life, she is - by all the success - under the rule of other people. She looks right through her interviewers, as though her eyes were fixed on some alluring point far in the distance. Steffi Graf is barely aware anymore. Also like filtered through a wall of bodyguards, who protect her from annoyances of every kind, the existence of Steffi Graf takes place under a microscope. Even her sex life (whether existing or not) is put out on the public market. And even if she could withdraw to the isolation of the Galapagos Islands, presumably the birds would want to have autographs.
The inhuman pressure, which weighs heavily on her, leads her to react like a string puppet, almost like in a trance. Presumably, there is only one place in the world at the moment where she is wide-awake, full of imagination and zest for life: the tennis court. Sabatini, her opponent, the only one who already defeated Steffi Graf this year (and that just twice), didn't have the hint of a chance. Just in the first three or four games, the 19-year-old from Brühl rushed the Argentine from corner to corner, up to the net and back to the baseline. "She was dead in the first 20 minutes," said Ion Tiriac, the manager of Boris Becker, afterwards, "but that was already five minutes longer than I expected!" Only, he could not understand that the dark-haired South American with the mighty shoulders had learned nothing from the previous 13 losses (in 15 encounters). But that is so easily said, against this forehand, this mobility, there seems to be no answer. Steffi Graf is a perfect athlete.
In the estimation of the German national coach Klaus Hofsäss, Sabatini played her best game in this eternal duel, "but after 35 minutes, she was out of gas." From time to time, she shook her head in despair, the sympathies of the spectators belonged to the loser. "But I certainly can't suffer with her," said Steffi Graf, who immediately succeeded Helen Wills (USA). That woman was the last gold medal winner in tennis in 1924.
At 5-3 in the second set, she was quite sure, said Graf, of almost reaching the goal of an unbelievable long distance race: After winning the Australian, French, English, and United States championships, she now pulled off the Super Grand Slam, so to say, at Seoul. "Not very many after me will succeed in doing that," she commented. Despite all her emotional exhaustion, the young lady from Brühl could still yet feel joy about this great achievement. She had "goose-flesh" down her back during the national anthem - presumably just like all the others who are permitted to stand at the highest step on the pedestal.
Undoubtedly, the Olympic experience was not the biggest thing for Steffi Graf, "that was Wimbledon, I also played my best tennis there." Apart from maybe the semifinals in Seoul against Zina Garrison (USA), who had to put up with athletic humiliation for 45 minutes before the 2-6, 0-6 match was finally settled. "Now I have achieved everything," groaned Steffi Graf, and it certainly didn't sound as though she was happy about it. What still remains? "I still want to improve my game," she set as a goal.
It would be nice to wish that the friendly, kind Steffi Graf gets her life back in her own hands again. Other superstars like Michael Jackson or Madonna know how difficult that is, probably even impossible. Possibly, it will already help the young girl to also play a little less tennis, to have more quiet. However, on the 4th and 6th of October, she competes again already in two so-called exhibitions against Sabatini. "It's all the same to me whether I get money or not. To an athlete, the victory is much more important." In every respect, the two exhibitions against her Olympic final opponent are highly lucrative, highly superfluous. And dangerous. Because there is an IOC rule which states that all commercial contracts in the timespan of one week before to one week after the Games have to cease. Of course, in these days, an Olympic competitor is also not allowed to play in a professional event. In the opposite case, disqualification is threatened. And Steffi Graf really will not have taken everything upon herself.