Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Tennis: The loneliness of a Graf opponent
Wednesday, January 20, 1988
From REX BELLAMY, Tennis Correspondent
MELBOURNE - Steffi Graf, champion of France and favourite here, took only 50 minutes to beat Hana Mandlikova 6-2, 6-2 in the Australian championships yesterday. Mandlikova beat Martina Navratilova in last year's final - on grass, as distinct from the cushioned, synthetic surface in use now - but was given an awful drubbing yesterday.
That raised an interesting thought. When playing well, as she did yesterday, Mandlikova was often a match for Navratilova and Chris Evert during the years when they dominated women's tennis. But she never had a ghost of a chance of staying with Graf, who has lost only 17 games in five matches.
Graf was so springy, fast and agile that she had time to take the ball early and answer questions before Mandlikova had finished asking them. On both flanks, especially the forehand, the ferocity and accuracy of Graf's ground strokes was awesome. Often Mandlikova was stranded in the forecourt, looking lonely, as passing shots sped so wide of her that she hardly felt the draught.
Mandlikova used her wits and drew on her experience to vary her tactics. Nor did she give much away. But she was trying to put up fences in a whirlwind. 'Nobody hits the ball as hard,' she said of Graf later. 'If she hits any harder I don't know what we're going to do ...'
Graf's opponent in a semi-final will be hard, tall compatriot Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, who has a troublesome foot but achieved an admirable 6-2, 6-4 win over the local heroine, Anne Minter. The winner's reputation was consolidated, the loser's advanced. Kohde-Kilsch, an accomplished all-round player, had a marked advantage in the forecourt.
Graf, aged 18, is seven months younger than another gifted German, Claudia Porwik, who was beaten 6-3, 6-1 by Evert. The 5ft 10in Porwik is a gracefully loose-limbed athlete whose forehand volley is as far-reaching as Margaret Court's used to be. But Porwik's services, approach shots and volleys lacked the punch and precision her task demanded. 'She's very talented,' Evert said 'but not yet polished.'
Navratilova served well and had a competent 6-4, 7-6 win over Helena SDkova. Navratilova reckons that, though now in their 30s, she and Evert are much better players than they were when winning Grand Slam titles a decade ago. They have been playing each other since 1973 and will meet again in a semi-final. 'It's never boring,' Navratilova said, 'because one is always in danger of losing - and at times we still surprise one another.'
The men's draw has been reduced to Ivan Lendl v Pat Cash and Anders Jerryd or Mats Wilander v Andrei Chesnokov or Stefan Edberg. Jarryd, Wilander and Edberg are all Swedes and Wilander and Edberg have each won this title twice (on grass) in the past four years. But Lendl and Cash are the men of the hour.
Last year Cash beat Lendl in a semi-final here and in the final at Wimbledon. But both matches were played on grass and this time they meet on a harder surface with a true bounce: though easier on the legs, the kind of surface on which Lendl has won three consecutive United States championships.
Lendl prefers to play from the baseline, Cash from the forecourt. 'A contrast of styles is always exciting,' Cash said yesterday, 'especially on a medium-fast court like this.'
Both had straightforward wins yesterday against players who had done well to reach the last eight. Lendl beat Todd Witsken, America's last hope, and Cash disposed of a big Dutchman, Michiel Schapers.
Next door, on Court One, Jeremy Bates, of Britain, and Peter Lundgren reached the doubles semi-finals with a 3-6, 7-6, 6-2, 3-6 7-5 win over Kelly Evernden and Johan Kriek. The draw was not strong, as Grand Slam tournaments go, but this was a good performance.
Bates and Evernden made mutually disparaging comments after their singles last week. Before yesterday's match they had a chat that cleared the air - so effectively that when Bates felled Evernden by hitting him on the head, there was no 'aggro'. Bates apoloized and Evernden had the wit to respond: 'That's the only part of me you can't hurt.'
We daubed on the anti-sunburn lotion, flicked off the flies, and enjoyed a delightful match. Some of the improvised forecourt repartee was physically and technically improbable. The chunky, heavily-moustached Kreik, who reminds me of several sergeant majors, was the star turn.
Kriek is a compact, restless bundle of muscles. Once he almost ran up a courtside wall, a prospect viewed with drowsy nonchalance by a young lady sitting on top of it. And some of his wrist work was astonishing.
But all four men deftly contributed to the fun. They even burst a ball. What ultimately mattered was that Bates and Lundgren had beaten three seeded partnerships to reach the semi-finals. That means more here than it does, for example, in New York or Paris.
Australian are connoisseurs of doubles, which may or may not justify the fact that, today, they will have little else to watch. That suits me. As they say here: 'No worries, mate.' First, though, one has to pop round to the shops for more 'high protection sunscreen'. Wish you were here?
Melbourne results MEN'S SINGLES: Quarter-finals: I Lendl (Cz) bt T Witsken (US), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6, P Cash (Aus) bt M Schapers (Neth), 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.
WOMEN'S SINGLES: Quarter-finals: M Navratilova (US) bt H Sukova (Cz), 6-4, 7-6; C Evert (US) bt C Porwik (WG), 6-3, 6-1; S Graf (WG) bt H Mandlikova (Aus), 6-2, 6-2; C Kohde-Kilsch (WG) bt A Minter (Aus), 6-2, 6-4.
MEN'S DOUBLES: Quarter-finals: R Leach and J Pugh (US) bt J Fitzgerald (Aus) and A Jarryd (Swe), 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; J Bates (GB) and P Lundgren (Swe), bt K Evernden (NZ) and J Kriek (US), 3-6, 7-6, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
MIXED DOUBLES: Second round: Tim Gullikson and Miss M Navratilova (US) bt R Leach and Miss P Fendick (US), 6-3, 6-2; C Limberger and Mrs D Balestrat (Aus) bt J Stoltenberg and Miss J Faull (Aus), 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.