Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Graf a Tennis Player for the Masses And, as She Nears Peak, for the Ages
The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution - Saturday, October 15, 1988
Author: Ed Hinton
Sports columnist Ed Hinton writes on West German female tennis player Steffi Graf, ranked the No. 1 woman in the world.
I feel a little now like an Australian adventurer was feeling when I met him on a train hurrying west through Germany late at night, years ago.
Not that I've ever been shoved to my knees in Nairobi with a .50 caliber Webley cocked and pointed at my head, as he had; nor made a killing off the black market of Cairo; nor been so elated at having put safe distance between myself and Russia as to find cause to get roaring drunk, as he did that night.
No, I feel as he did only in that I've seen a wonder incongruous with all the rest of my experience, and the images won't go.
On his slippery foray into the Soviet Union - he'd brought out icons and free-lance photographs of helicopter installations - he'd managed to see the Bolshoi Ballet. He couldn't get his mind off it. For all he'd seen, he'd seen nothing quite like that.
"I don't know nothing about ballet," he said, "but I wanted more o' this."
Tennis, in that it is a realm of the rich and aspirant rich, is somewhat the ballet of sports, appreciated by the few, force-fed to the many via television. John McEnroe himself has said that tennis is grossly over-represented on television, to please "that 1 or 2 percent" who care, but care with clout.
Tennis, danced out in mediocrity or mere brilliance, still isn't swallowed by the great unwashed or even semi-scrubbed, for tennis is a game of nuances to an audience waiting for the towering home run, the bone-crushing sack, the "whoooo!" dunk, the spectacular crash . . .
But now, enter the dazzler, the Anna Pavlova to transcend her art, loosed upon the world to overwhelm it, no matter its tastes.
Enter Fraulein Steffi Graf, on legs so sleek, so strong that - well, two more to match them and you'd have a Derby favorite.
I'm no tennis expert, but I've seen lightning strike in fields; so her serves strike in front of opponents, and flash away. I have seen tracer bullets fly, little white dot-blurs, across the old World War II film footage; such are her returns.
Enter Fraulein Graf, speaking her native German neither with the stereotyped Prussian harshness nor the slow Bavarian sweetness, but a madchenhaftgeplapper, a girlish chatter. Her English is similar, with only traces of accent.
Enter Fraulein Graf, age 19, not yet even at full grace - and yet a yearling already wearing more than a Triple Crown.
She has already won the only Golden Slam - the Australian, French and U.S. Opens plus Wimbledon, plus an Olympic gold medal, all in a calendar year, 1988.
I saw her in the process of winning the gold medal at Seoul, and like the Australian tough haunted by the images of the Bolshoi, I cannot get it off my mind, not even back at home amidst dear old unwashed football.
I saw her devastate Zina Garrison, the American who only recently had ended Martina Navratilova's reign as the iron empress of tennis, in the U.S. Open.
The Aussie rogue's words echo: "I don't know nothing about ballet, but I wanted more o' this."
At Seoul, I saw Pavlova - sensed that even in the bud, Steffi Graf is suddenly the best female tennis player of all time, and perhaps even one to shed the segregation, the "women's" adjective.
For the first time I saw a tennis player whose performance is as right-between-the-eyes to the masses as any 80-yard touchdown run.
She has her lapses, her off-matches, but when she is at her pinnacle - where she soon will be consistently - there is a combination of grace and might that you cannot miss.
Whether she will ever be one for the TV commercials is unknown, for her face is still a schoolgirl's, blemished, squinting under camera lights. Graf sitting still is unimposing. Silent, she could pass for a too-tall senior at some high school in Gwinnett County.
But that matters little. It is Graf in motion who will matter for the ages.