Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Why tennis pundits favored Sabatini as a prospect over Graf in their early teens? Not only Austin, but Bolletieri and many others.
I would say it was mainly to do with physical development - when I first saw Sabatini - at literally just turning 14 - she already looked like an adult. Tall, strong, very athletic, mature appearance - much like Capriati was at 14. Graf really was very much a youngster then in appearance. And you never know how kids are going to grow. (One example that always struck me is Monica Seles whose adult body form, eating disorders apart, turned out to be nothing like as athletic as her youthful self.) Graf took a long time to grow in to herself - perhaps 20 before she was really in her adult form. She grew taller but she was still very slim.
Also Graf was a superb junior (didn't she win the European u18s when she was 12?) but Sabatini had had an extraordinary and very media attention getting run as a 13 year old, sweeping several important junior tournaments in the 18s including the Orange Bowl (always a lot of media) as well as the junior FO. If we had a 13 year old girl today who was doing that, she'd be getting massive hype too... Not sure if Graf played the juniors at all after she was 12, but didn't play the 18s at the big media tournaments much if at all I don't think.
And fan bases ... I was in a circle of rabid male Graf admirers so I didn't hear much discussion of Sabatini's charms although I know she had her own followers. I think Graf became by far the more popular fantasy object through their 20s... Again Sabatini looked like a woman at 14; Graf was a kind of gawky teenager - all skinny legs. And remember what a mess her hair was then? I think it was 1989 before she started growing it all longer and putting it in a pony tail. I seem to recall journalists, male fans and male players all got on board the Graf bandwagon pretty quickly in the 1990s...
What's unusual about the experts' skepticism about Graf as a young teen seems to me just that - most teen prospects are WILDLY overhyped by coaches, journalists and fans. By far the majority never meet the expectations. She was progressing fast and seamlessly but took longer to persuade for some reason. Perhaps it's because - as we often see today - many fast rising young teens flatter to impress briefly, but can't hold their position much less consolidate as GS winners.